How to Think of Yourself in the Right Way

Do you ever get the feeling maybe you’re not seeing yourself accurately?

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”  -Romans 12:3

The word Paul uses here for “Sober judgement” is the greek word “sophroneo.”  It literally means, “to be in one’s right mind.”

This same word is used in the Gospels for a man who was set free by Jesus after being possessed by a “legion” of demonic spirits.  In Luke 8, Jesus casts out the demons and the man is then described as being sophroneo, “in his right mind” (Luke 8:35).  Thus, the exhortation from Paul to his readers is not to view ourselves poorly or as lowly scum, but simply to think of ourselves with sanity, to see ourselves accurately.

The problem is, this can be a tricky thing.

Psychologists talk about something called the “self-serving bias,” a tendency most of us have to interpret our successes as being due to our own efforts and character, and our failures as being due to external circumstances beyond our control.

This is just the sort of thing Paul is warning against: taking credit that isn’t ours, and refusing responsibility that is.

Oh how we need grace to see ourselves rightly!  Understanding the reality of God’s grace helps us remember that we are special in God’s eyes, but not because of how great we are.

Rather, we are incredibly loved and valuable because of how great He is.

 

Patience Can Multiply Your Blessing

 Do you ever get tired of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled?

“By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.”  -Hebrews 11:9

How curious that even though Abraham was walking in the midst of the promise he’d been given, it did not take precedence in his life.

Even though he was living in the land God had promised to give to him and his descendants, he didn’t try to conquer and claim the blessings right away.

He knew God would bring things to pass at just the right time and in just the right way.  He was content to simply wait on God’s timing for the final fulfillment, even if that meant discomfort and displacement in the meantime.

And billions of people were blessed as a result.

Maybe your life doesn’t look like you wish it did.  Maybe you’re waiting on something God promised you, but it looks like nothing is happening right now.

Hang in there!  Sometimes, like ground being prepared for good seeds and a great harvest, it’s our patience that is the very process by which God prepares us to receive the promise.

Even better, sometimes the more contentedly we wait, the greater the blessing we’re able to receive.

You can do it!

 

Does Hebrews 6 Mean I Can Lose my Salvation?

banner-theology-thursdays

As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy!
—Pastor Phillip


The other day a friend of mine sent me a serious text message:

"I've been struggling with some verses. It's Hebrews 6:4-8...
I know I've sinned many times since conversion, and sometimes
I've even wondered about my own salvation."

Have you ever received (or asked) a question like that?  What do you do with those thoughts, anyway?  After all, these verses and the questions they bring up have been wrestled with for generations by people far wiser than most of us.

For me, I wanted to make sure and give this passage/question full attention and not just “gloss over it” with a quick answer, so I let my friend know I’d pray and research and respond soon.

Here’s where my journey took me.  I’ve arranged them in a numbered list for ease of both writing and reading.  I hope it’s helpful and a blessing to you!

Let’s start with the passage itself:

Hebrews 6:4-8
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.  

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
1) Look again at Hebrews 6:7, “land that has drunk the rain”. This is used as a metaphor to illustrate the previous passage. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.

  • FIRST THOUGHT: Everyone gets a little rain, the question is, what does the ground produce?

 

2) In Luke 8:15, Jesus uses another agricultural metaphor in the parable of the seeds and soils: “As for that [seed which fell on] good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Again, in Luke 6:43-45, Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor and says this.

Luke 6:43-45
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

  • SECOND THOUGHT: What does the ground produce? It depends on what the soil is, and the “soil” is the human heart.

 

3) The Old Testament Prophets spoke often about God’s coming redemtion of His people. They spoke of Messiah, and the day when God would reconcile His people to Himself again. These are prophecies that point to the coming of Jesus, and speaking of the coming redemption, look at what the prophet Ezekiel says:

Ezekiel 11:19-20
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 36:26-27
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

A new heart? A new Spirit?  Well that sounds a lot like…

Romans 8:11
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:14-16
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

  • THIRD THOUGHT: The ground produces whatever the heart contains, and that’s not something that comes from us.  GOD gives the new heart, that produces the new fruit, that is the evidence of salvation.

 

4) When I first met my friend Richardson, he had no place to live. So, I invited him to live with me for a while, and so he did. During those few weeks, he would come along with me to family outings, to dinners at Dad and Mom’s house, to events where we all were spending time together as a family. He had never been around a family like ours before, where we loved each other, where the Dad was not harsh and abusive, where the children were respectful.

In fact, you could say that he was “enlightened”, that he “tasted the gift” of love from our family, that he “shared in the gracious spirit” that we show to one another, that he “tasted the goodness” of what life as a part of our family is like.

However, eventually that season came to an end. Eventually, he was no longer with us. Over time, he found his own place to live, his own group of friends (of which we’re still a part, by the way :-), and he wasn’t spending time “in our family” any more.

In fact, you could say it this way… “He went out from us, because he was not of us; for if he had been of us, he would have continued with us. But he went out, that it might become plain that he is not of us.” (1 John 2:19, paraphrased).

He acted like part of our family for a while, but time showed that he really wasn’t.

  • THOUGHT FOUR: What we do on the outside simply reveals who we are on the inside.

 

5) Scroll back up a bit and read Romans 8:14-16 again.

See that bold part?  “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…”  Think about the Richardson story again.  He left because he wasn’t really a part of our family.

People who “fall away from Christ” do so because they are not really a part of His family.  But true believers in Christ?  We have been ADOPTED and now we ARE a part of the family of God!

We didn’t earn it, Jesus did!
We didn’t initiate it, Jesus did!

There will be people who “pretend” for a while but they don’t truly have the Spirit and won’t truly last because they’re not of the same family.  But YOU?  If you’re a follower of Christ, then be encouraged that you HAVE the Spirit of God and you can KNOW that you do because you’re asking the questions in the first place.

The whole point of having a “new heart and new Spirit” is that with those new things come new desires: desires to love God, to know Him, to serve Him, to have a relationship with Him, and even though there will be times when we don’t act like children of God, that no more disqualifies us from being a Christian than my acting like a jerk sometimes disqualifies me from being a Gonzales.

  • THOUGHT FIVE: Many may “taste” and say “that’s nice”, but the ones whom God has redeemed continue to desire more, and if you’re truly concerned about this question, then that’s you, my friend.  That’s you!

I hope these five thoughts have been encouraging to you in your walk with Christ, and I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts, too!  Take a moment to post a comment below (or for e-mail readers, click here), and let’s discuss these things together.  After all, that’s a big part of what it means to be “the church” 🙂

– Pastor Phillip

Grace is Your Antidote to Bitterness

Have you discovered how subtly bitterness can sneak in to your soul?

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  -Hebrews 12:14-15

Peace, holiness, grace and bitterness.  Four words; four massive ideas.

Peace-making may lead some to flirt with moral compromise in the name of “tolerance” or “not offending.”  Yet, God does not cease to be holy so others can have peace with Him.  Therefore, neither should we.

We must learn to still pursue a righteous life and admonish others to do the same, and the way this is possible is through the grace of God.

We must first receive His grace, “obtain” it, as the Word says.  Only after we have understood and acted on our own need for the grace of God will we be able to share it with others.

Receiving His grace protects and insulates us both from feelings of failure when we don’t measure up to God’s holiness, and feelings of pride when we do.  If we are not walking in His grace, then we will be a slave to our own moral performance, and will inevitably seek to put others under the same sentence.

This will almost always lead to bitterness, a deep seething resentment either towards God because we can’t live up to His standards, or to others because they can’t live up to ours.  From there it spreads and “many become defiled.”

O, may we learn to obtain that sweet and sure antidote and share it with as many as we can.

Let us walk in grace.

 

What Christmas Means to Me

I have no presents to open today.

Don’t take that the wrong way.  Our family exchanged gifts a few nights ago when my brothers and sisters-in-law were in town, so it’s not like I lost my ticket for the goodie train this year.  But, since the gift-giving is done, this morning will bring no fantastic trove of presents, no festive tearing of paper, no scrambling for batteries or saving of bows for next year.

What Christmas Means to MeThis morning I will work out with my friend Steve, carrying on our regular Tuesday/Thursday routine.

This morning I will visit my parents for some breakfast and chit-chat about the weekend and our plans for the new year.

This morning I will check Facebook a time or two, do a little reading , and ponder the significance of words I read this morning about what this day is supposed to mean.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
-Luke 2:10b-12

A newborn baby: The littlest thing turns out to be the greatest gift of all.

Two poor first-time parents: The most unlikely people in the most unlikely place turn out to be the ones God chooses to steward His greatest treasure.

An unkempt, ragtag group of shepherds: The most unqualified ears turn out to be the ones that first hear the news of the Savior’s birth.

This Christmas, no matter what things are or aren’t under the tree, no matter who is or isn’t nearby for the celebration or whether or not there is a celebration at all, may you remember this simple truth.  God loves to take the small things and turn them into big blessings, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

May you be blessed to be a blessing, both on this special day and in the days to come.

Merry Christmas,
-Pastor Phillip

 

Jesus is Calling You Forward to Freedom

Do you ever feel “the darkness” trying to drag you back?

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” -Hebrews 10:36-39

There is a dark destruction that yearns to swallow the children of God.  It follows close behind, nipping at our heels and calling to our minds, “Turn back!  The Way is hard.  The road is long.  The cause is hopeless and you are not qualified for it, anyway.

Oh my friend, do not listen to it!

Those who listen to the darkness will be consumed by it.  Those who shrink back from the call of Christ will find themselves sucked in to the darkness because of their unbelief.

The Way of Jesus is forward, always forward.

We must trust Him not only with our minds and not only with our hearts, but with our steps.  When we do this, we are assured a great salvation that will make every step of hardship seem like nothing in comparison.

Walk on.

Hold fast.

Stay strong.

Don’t look or shrink back, and watch as God does wonders in your life for His glory and your joy.

Remember, the wondrous life is not found along the path of the past, but on the road ahead.

Why Hope and Truth Must Always Coexist

Truth without hope is like light without heat.

It may show you the way, but it will not provide the strength to walk in it.

Hope without truth is like a cloud without rain.

It may look promising for a while, but it will never provide the nourishment you need.

Churches and sermons and Christians in conversation must be faithful to do what God’s Word does: provide both truth AND hope.

Every time.

How are you doing?

 

How to Not be Overwhelmed at Christmas

Do you ever feel overwhelmed during the Christmas season?

Do you find yourself frustrated by the commercialism, by the long lines and busy schedules, by the financial burden and the family hassles?  Here is your solution.

Selah.

Who is this Jesus?

In Scripture, to “selah” means to stop and consider, to step back and ponder something of great importance.  Naturally, then, we must have something of great importance to consider.

A couple of years ago I was part of a home-based Bible study community.  One night around Christmas time, a friend of mine shared this piece, and it was such a beautiful way to draw our focus to Jesus that I wanted to share it here.

Read it slowly.  Read it deliberately.  Don’t rush through it, but take the time to ponder the significance of what is said.

If you would seek to not be overwhelmed AT Christmas, join me in being overwhelmed BY the Christ whose birth we celebrate.  Indeed, as we ponder, He will be faithful to send His peace.

He always is.

—Pastor Phillip

 


The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Scriptural Tapestry of Jesus as Man and God by Gregory of Nazianzus

“He was baptized (Matt. 3:13) as man, but he destroyed sins (Matt. 9:6) as God; he himself was not in need of purifying rites, but [he was baptized/he came] that he might sanctify the waters.

He was tempted (Matt. 4:1) as man, but he conquered as God; not only this but he even encouraged [us] to be courageous, since he had conquered the world (John 16:33).

He was hungry, but he fed thousands (John 6:10); not only this but he is indeed life-giving and heavenly bread (John 6:51).  He was thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28), but he shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); not only this but he also promised that those who believe would gush forth [with water] (John 7:38).

He was tired (John 4:6), but for those who are tired and heavy laden he is rest (Matt. 11:28).  He was heavy with sleep (Matt. 8:24), but he is light upon the sea; not only this but he even rebukes winds; not only this but he even makes Peter light when he is sinking (Matt. 14:25, 29; Matt. 8:26).

He pays tax, but [he does so] from a fish (Matt. 17:24-27); not only this but he is even king of those demanding [the tax].

He hears himself called a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), but he saves the one who went down from Jerusalem and fell among robbers (Luke 10:30); not only this but he is even recognized by demons (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) and drives out demons (Matt. 8:16), and he sinks a legion of spirits (Luke 8:33) and sees the ruler of demons falling like lightning (Luke 10:18).

He is stoned, but he is not caught (John 8:59).

He prays (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Heb. 5:7), but he hears [prayers] (Acts 7:59).

He weeps (John 11:35), but he causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus [is laid] (John 11:34), for he was man, but he raises Lazarus (John 11:43), for he was God.

He is sold, and very cheaply, for [it was] for thirty silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but he buys back the world, and [it was] for a great price, for [it was] with his own blood (1 Pet 1:18-19).

He was led as a sheep to slaughter (Isa 53:7), but he shepherds Israel, and now, indeed, the whole inhabited world (John 10:11).  [He is] silent like a lamb (Isa 53:7; Matt. 26:63), but he is the Word (John 1:1), being proclaimed by a voice of one shouting in the desert (John 1:23).

He has been weakened, wounded, but he heals every disease and every infirmity (Isa. 53:5).  He is lifted up upon the tree (John 12:32), he is fixed [to it] (Acts 2:23), but he restores by the tree of life (John 6:51); not only this but he saves even a robber crucified with [him] (Luke 23:43); not only this but he darkens everything that is seen (Luke 23:44).

He is given cheap wine to drink (Luke 23:36), he is fed bile (Matt. 27:34).  Who?  The one who changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11), the destroyer of the bitter taste (Heb. 2:9), the [one who is] sweetness and all desire (Song 5:16).

He hands over his life, but he has authority to take it again (John 10:18); not only this but the curtain is torn apart (Matt. 27:51); for the things above are exhibited (Cf. Rev. 11:19; 15:5) not only this but rocks are split; not only this but dead are raised beforehand (Matt. 27:51-52).  He dies, but he makes alive, and by death he destroys death.

He is buried, but he rises. He goes down into Hades (1 Peter 3:18-19), but he brings up souls; not only this but he goes up into heaven; not only this but he will come to judge the living and the dead . . . ”

(Gregory of Nazianzus Oration 29.20, translation by Rodney A. Whitacre)

God Has a Greater Reward for You

Do you ever wish you were more “near to God?”

“whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”  -Hebrews 11:6b

When I look at the world, it’s not hard to believe God exists.  The order, the beauty, the wonder of His creation is an amazing thing.

Yet, for me to truly want to “draw near” to Him, simply believing God exists won’t work for long.

My heart is most drawn to Him when I dwell on the incredible truth that as I seek Him, He has a great reward for me!

Now, here’s the liberating truth.

Seeking God isn’t about Him giving me everything I want.

It’s about Him being everything I need, and when I realize this and walk in it, I can’t help but draw near to Him to receive the greatest reward of all…

Himself.

 

How about you?  How are you drawing near to God in this season?

 

The Silver Thread

When I was a boy, I once let go of a helium balloon, just to see what would happen.

There it went, floating up, up, slowly and silently, gently making its way skyward until it disappeared in the cobalt blue of an open Texas sky.

It was beautiful.

I could not explain what happened, because I was only a small child.

I could not understand what carried the balloon away or where it might go, because such things were to much for me to know as merely a child.

Instead of finding answers, all I could do was look to the sky and trust that someday I might know, but for the moment I must simply let the wonder be enough.

Today a tragedy occurred in our nation.

Children and parents, brothers and sisters and mothers and more were gunned down senselessly at a Connecticut elementary school.

It was terrible.

I cannot explain what happened, because I am only an observer from a thousand empty miles away.

I cannot understand what carried the killer to such a dark place, what brittle supports must have collapsed in his soul to propel him to do such a thing.  Such things are too deep for me to know as merely a man.

Instead of finding answers, all I can do is look to the sky and trust that someday I might know, but for now I must simply let these words be enough…

“In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”  -Psalm 56:11

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”  -Psalm 36:7

But words don’t stop bullets.

Even worse, if all we have is this life, then even these words from the Psalms truly have no meaning, because today brought a graphic example of “what man can do to me.

Yet, if there is more to our existence than a few tired years under a fading sun, if there is indeed a hope for us beyond the grave, then words like these do have power after all.

They can stop our souls from decaying into bitterness.

They can stop our minds from sinking into despair.

They can stop the bleeding of our hearts, even as they help the tears flow on for healing.

If there is a God whose Word is true, then I can find strength in these, His assurances.

And so can you.

I often imagine there is a silver thread that ties our souls to our bodies.

I see it as a shining thing, like a spiderweb dripping with fresh morning dew, an unseen link that links the temporal to the eternal.

Today, many of those threads were cut.

Yet, the God I know loves children.  The Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas was One who welcomed children into His arms and said this:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

Today, many silver threads were severed, precious souls cut loose from lifeless bodies, but the Christ I know did not let them slip away.

He was as He always is, true to His Word, and with all my heart I believe that those children were indeed given eternal refuge in the shadow of Almighty God.

May their families find comfort both on this day and in the days to come, and may we all find such refuge in Christ, both now, and when our own silver threads finally become as those children are now…

Free.

The Silver Thread

 

 

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