Have you been cleansed?

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I John Chapters 1 through 5

This week’s reading is from I John 1:7-8. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Many years ago God opened this passage up to me and it has been a life verse ever since. When we come to God and confess our sins, He forgives us, not because He is just a nice guy, He forgives us because “it is just.” This means that God’s laws demand that when we sin someone has to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus offered to do this on the cross. When we sin, God’s law is met and the penalty is paid in Jesus. It is like when a person who breaks the laws and is declared guilty and has to go to jail. But instead of that person going to jail, someone else who is totally innocent goes in his place. Most of us know this part of forgiveness, but the second part is even more exciting. Since we have been forgiven, God cleanses the record. He erases the offense. It is as though it never happened! Even in our country if a criminal pays for his crime by going to jail, his record follows him wherever he goes, not so with God’s kingdom. Once we are forgiven, God cleanses the record. When a Christian understands this, it brings such freedom and liberation from the weight of guilt. How good it is to know that God has not only forgiven us, but He has the ability to erase the offense from the books. We actually can stand before Him as righteous. I believe this is a small insight into judgment day as well. When we stand before God on that day, it is going to be like the angels will put a DVD of our life on for everyone to watch. But since all of our sins have not only been forgiven, they have been edited, the movie will only show a life of perfection! Incredible. Now for sure, some people’s DVD’s will be short, like the thief on the cross, and some may be quite a bit longer, like maybe Billy Graham’s, but no matter what, it will be an awesome experience. Not one of our sins will ever show up on that DVD. If you have confessed your sins to God, He has forgiven you and cleansed you!

Knowledge produces self-control

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II Peter Chapters 1 through 3

The Bible has a lot to say about self-control. One of the main passages that deal with this matter is found in this week’s reading, chapter 1:3-5. “God’s divine power has given us everything (not just some things, but everything) we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these, He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Isn’t that what you desire: to escape the corruption (alcohol abuse, gambling, drug addiction, gluttony, porn, anger, etc.) in the world caused by evil desires? Sure you do. But how do you escape these things? The next sentence tells us: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue (goodness); and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control…” (vs. 5).

The first thing you must do to have self-control is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. This makes you a partaker of God’s divine nature. Self-control is God’s attribute. He will give it to those who are born again. But self-control is not given at conversion. It comes by adding to our faith. After you are born again, you must add to your new faith: virtue or goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Please notice that the Apostle Peter does not give us a haphazard list of virtues we should possess; instead, he gives us a progressive list of Christian qualities that produce continuous growth. Look carefully at the list and notice how each virtue gives birth to another each in its respective order.

First, we need faith. Without it, you can’t be saved. Yet, it does not end there, sad to say for many Christians it does! So it starts with faith. Then we add goodness or ‘virtue, a life dedicated to following God. Then we add knowledge, then we add self-control. It ends with love! Peter says, “…and to knowledge, add self-control…” Self-control follows the gaining of knowledge. So if we want to get self-control what do we have to do? Get knowledge. What kind of knowledge is Peter talking about here? Is he talking about collecting a lot of information? Is he talking about scientific knowledge or mathematical knowledge? No. He is talking about ‘spiritual’ knowledge. It is amazing how many people spend their lives collecting information about sports, business, health and everything else but when it comes to spiritual knowledge they are illiterate! How do we get spiritual knowledge? Through reading God’s Word, through prayer and through fellowship with other Christians, through quiet times with God, and through worship.

The bottom line here is that in order to get to self-control, we need to get spiritual knowledge. If knowledge is essential in order to have self-control, then the lack of knowledge destroys self-control. Lack of knowledge is simply believing in false information. Much of the information that people have gathered about life is simply not true and as a result, they struggle with self-control. We need to gather true knowledge, true information, not just information. Jesus said in John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What sets you free? Knowing the truth. The opposite is also true. Lies will keep you bound. Jesus called Satan the “father of lies.” Satan will lie to us so that we stay bound in sin and hurtful habits. When we believe these lies we lose control of our lives. If you want self-control, gaining spiritual knowledge. Truth is the path on which we must walk. Are you on that path?

Do it without grumbling!

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I Peter Chapters 4 and 5

This week’s reading is found in chapter 4:9. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” When was the last time you had someone over to your house to eat dinner or lunch: sometime in the last 30 days, in the last six months, or I can’t remember. Which of these have you done in the last 3 months: I had a guest at my house for dinner, I went over to someone else’s house for dinner, or I had someone I did not know very well at my house for lunch. It is interesting that Peter says to be hospitable ‘without grumbling.” Being hospitable can be sacrificial and often we would rather not do it. Yet the command to be hospitable is unconditional. It does not say, “Show hospitality if you have time, or if it is convenient or, or if you feel comfortable doing it, or if you have a big enough house or if you have a complete set of matching dishes.” We are called to be hospitable no matter who we are and no matter what our circumstances are, and we are to do it without complaining.

The issue of hospitality is often overlooked when we study Christian discipleship. Think about it. If you were asked to identify which character traits a mature believer should possess, which character traits we should be striving to build into our lives, hospitality probably would not be high on the list. It seems like one of the less important, and perhaps even optional virtues, something akin to interior decorating, or flower arranging, or the art of making polite conversation. But that’s not how the Bible presents it. In both the Old and New Testaments, hospitality is seen as absolutely essential. For example, Paul identifies it as one of the basic qualifications for a pastor or an elder, a non-negotiable requirement for spiritual leadership. In I Tim 3:2 church leaders are to be “given to hospitality.” In Titus 1:7-8 ministers are told to be lovers of hospitality. Also in Romans 12:13 Paul wrote, “Give yourselves to hospitality.” The NIV reads “Practice” I like this idea of practicing hospitality, just like you practice an instrument! At first, you may not be very good, but as you practice you get better. For some of us, inviting people to our house can make us feel very uncomfortable. We may not feel very good at it. But with practice, we can get better.

Hospitality should occupy a place in every believer’s heart. It is not supposed to be something that only the South is known for. It is not something that only those who may have a special gift for entertaining are supposed to show. Hospitality can take the form of sharing a meal, an evening discussion, playing a game, watching a movie, etc. This is not talking about costly displays and big parties, but simple acts of love and kindness. There are a lot of lonely people in our community and in our church. Some have never been invited to another person’s house or it has been so long since they have been invited to another person’s house that they cannot remember it. We can show hospitality by reaching out to the broken, the poor, and the people in need. We can show hospitality by reaching out to our church family to deepen relationships. We can show hospitality by opening our homes to the internationals. We can show hospitality by inviting someone from church on Sunday over to your house.

While hospitality does not obtain salvation for anyone it is truly the result of salvation. The true measure of someone’s Christianity is not dependent on how they do on Sunday. The true measure of someone’s Christianity is not dependent on whether they speak in tongues, preach a good sermon, love to worship, carry a big bible, tell others about salvation, wear Christian jewelry, or listen to Christian music. Those who pray, study their Bibles, and never miss a Sunday service at church, but who never give themselves to hospitality, are missing out on what Christianity is all about. Peter is saying we should be open and intentional about being hospitable to the people we meet. It does not just happen. It means being willing to invite people over when they need a meal or a conversation, even if it’s not the most convenient time. Hospitality is not distinctive to Christianity. It has been a part of many cultures for a long time and in some, it is even considered a sacred responsibility. Yet, Christians, of all people, are to be hospitable. It is truly a mark of Christian maturity. It is not just a sacred duty but also rather an act of Christian love. The Christian is to have an open heart, open hand, and an open door. Invite someone to your house today, and do it ‘without grumbling!” You will be glad you did!

If I am healed how come I still feel sick?

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I Peter Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in Chapter 2:24, “By whose stripes you WERE healed.” Peter is writing about what Jesus did for us on the cross. He mentions that Jesus took our sins onto His body on the cross and that Jesus suffered the consequences of our sin by suffering and dying. The conclusion that Peter makes then, is that we are no longer to suffer the punishment and consequences of sin, which would be death and disease. Yet we struggle with this because we still get sick. Many have rejected this simple truth because of their own personal experience, but this is dangerous. The Bible also says that because of Jesus death we are no longer under the power of sin, see Romans chapter 6, yet we know that we all still struggle with the power and temptation of sin. What are we to do about that, reject this truth also? No, this is true whether we experience it or not. Now, for sure we will all experience the ultimate work of Jesus death on the cross when we go to heaven. But what are we to do until then? I say we continue to believe what God’s Word says, and when we are confronted with sickness and sin we are to pray against it, believe that it is God’s will that we are healthy, whole and victorious over sin. I don’t think we need to go around saying we are healed physically when in fact we are not healed, or that we don’t sin when we do, but it is correct to claim God’s Word for our lives and whether we see it manifested or not, it is still true.

Sometimes there may be other reasons why we are not seeing God’s Word manifested in our lives. In the book of Daniel, we read a story about Daniel’s prayer not being answered because of some kind of spiritual warfare that was going on. In I Peter 3:7, men are told that if they don’t treat their wives right their prayers would be hindered. In Matthew 5:24 Jesus said that if we are praying and have some unforgiveness in our hearts or some unresolved conflict that we need to get that right before we continue praying to God. The point is, if we are not getting our prayers answered it might be more profitable to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us and guide us and let us know if there is something that needs to be done. Maybe we should pray as David did in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”