“Are your words blessing or cursing?” November 22

 

finger pointing wordsBlessing or cursing: Are your words wholesome and edifying or critical and destructive? If someone had to describe what comes out of your mouth in one word, would your words be described as blessing or cursing?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 35 & 36
Psalm 131.1-3
Proverbs 29.2-3
James 3.1-18

 

Are your words blessing or cursing?

 

James 3.1-18:

The Tongue

 

arguing yelling

Oh, the tongue … how much damage we can do with that little member! Especially damaging is someone who claims to be a believer, and yet makes no effort to control his or her tongue.

“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh” (vv. 10-13).

If someone had to describe what comes out of your mouth in one word, would it be blessing or cursing? Bitter or fresh?

Ephesians 4.29 says:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from our mouths, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (NASB)

Unwholesome words are more than just vulgarity or using the Lord’s name in vain. According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek word means “rotten, useless, corrupt or depraved.”

Merriam-Webster defines rotten as “decayed, bad, unpleasant or unhealthy.” Useless as “ineffectual or inept.” Unpleasant means “displeasing.” Corrupt means “tainted or morally impure” and depraved means “perverted.”

So certainly we need to put off any kind of speech that could be described by any of those adjectives, but it’s not enough to just quit saying things that fit those descriptions. We also need to put on speech that is, as Paul said in Ephesians 4.29, edifying and grace giving.  Continue reading

“Is believing ‘in’ God enough?” November 21

 

Is believing in God enough? - Is believing in God enough to save us? If so, why would James say, "even the demons believe--and tremble"?Is believing in God enough to save us? If so, why would James say, “even the demons believe–and tremble”?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 33 & 34
Psalm 130.5-8
Proverbs 29.1
James 2.1-26

 

Is believing “in” God enough?

 

James 2.1-26:

Orthodox Demons?

 

Watching, Warning & Orthodox Demons

Verse 19, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”

John MacArthur says that demons, while they seek to deceive others about the truths of God and while they chose to follow Satan, are orthodox in their theology. They know who Christ is, they know they are under His authority, and they know that one day they will be cast into the lake of fire (Mk. 5.6-10).

But just believing in God isn’t enough.

Do you know someone who claims to believe in God, but without any evidence of saving faith? This is a great verse to memorize and share. Believing in God does not save us, that is, merely, believing that He exists. It’s belief in the gospel that saves (Mk. 1.15; Rom. 1.16). It’s believing He is who He says He is and believing what He says is true.

Instead, many have some general idea of God as some kind of a benevolent Father. They often expect that He will weigh the good and the bad things we have done and since most of us think we’re really not that bad (Prov. 20.6), hope the good will outweigh the bad.

But the gospel is the truth that we are sinners dead in our trespasses and sins and unable to save ourselves. We cannot be saved by good works (Jn. 3.10, 3.23, 6.23; Eph. 2.8-9), nor through any amount of religion (going to church, being baptized, taking sacraments, etc.).

God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. He died on the cross, was buried, and was raised again. We are saved by His grace when we admit that we are sinners in need of a Savior and by putting our faith in Him and Him alone to save us. It’s Jesus who saves us, but we must “receive,” choose to believe, the truth.

 

Today’s Other Readings:

 

Ezekiel 33 & 34:

Watching & Warning

 

1 Again the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, 3 when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (ch. 33.1-6).

Ezekiel was called to be a “watchman” to the people of His day. He was to warn the people of their need to repent and turn from their sin and idolatry. We, too, are “watchman” called to share the gospel with those around us. Matthew 28.19-20 says:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

If we are faithful to share God’s truth, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient, we are free from guilt. But if we refuse, God says “their blood is on our hands.” Continue reading

Blended Families Part 12: Seven A’s of Confession + LINKUP

 

Blended Families Part 12: Seven A's of Confession - In last week's post, Blended Families Part 11: How to Start Dealing with Ex's, we talked about some of the reasons for conflict and the beginning steps of working toward a better relationship with an ex-spouse. We discussed the need to first seek God's help to have the right heart attitude and then to do some self-examination.

Blended Families Part 12: Seven A’s of Confession

 

In last week’s post, Blended Families Part 11: How to Start Dealing with Ex’s, we talked about some of the reasons for conflict and the beginning steps of working toward a better relationship with an ex-spouse. We discussed the need to first seek God’s help to have the right heart attitude and then to do some self-examination (Matt. 7.3-5).

I suggested making a “log list” of ways you’ve sinned against your ex without focusing on what he or she has done or not done.

This week in “Blended Families Part 12: Seven A’s of Confession,” we’ll look at the next step.

Click here for previous posts in this series.

 

Seeking Peace Starts with You

 

God puts a high priority on peace and reconciliation in our relationships.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone (Rom. 12.18 NLT).

23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matt. 5.23-24).

He doesn’t say seek peace with everyone but your ex, but rather do “all that you can” to live at peace with “everyone.” Certainly, there are some people who won’t be at peace with us, but unless there is some reason (like physical abuse or safety issues), we should be willing to do our part.

The next step is seeking forgiveness for the things on your log list.

This can be challenging if you believe your ex-spouse is the one who should be asking for forgiveness, but remember, you are only responsible for you. What the other person has done is between them and God.

 

Seeking Forgiveness God’s Way

 

Seeking forgiveness requires three things: repentance, confession, and asking.

Repentance is a change of thinking that leads to a change of action. Confession is to agree with what God says about something and asking is more than saying, “I’m sorry.” It is a sincere request to be released from a debt.

 

The Seven A’s of Confession

 

Peacemaker Ministries explains what’s involved in a biblical confession:

  1. Address Everyone Involved. As a general rule, you should confess your sins to every person who has been directly affected by your wrongdoing. Note that since all sins offend God by violating His will, all sins should be first confessed to Him.
  2. Avoid If, But, and Maybe. The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt.
  3. Admit Specifically. Specific admissions help convince others that you are honestly facing up to what your have done.
  4. Acknowledge the Hurt. Your goal is to show that you understand how the other person felt as a result of your words or actions. Although you should not dwell excessively on feelings, it is important to show that you understand how other people feel and to express genuine sorrow for hurting them.
  5. Accept the Consequences. The harder you work to make restitution and repair any damage you have caused, the easier it will be for others to believe your confession is genuine.
  6. Alter Your Behavior. Explain to the person how you plan to change your behavior in the future. This could involve describing some of the attitude, character, and behavior changes you hope to make with God’s help.
  7. Ask for Forgiveness (and Allow Time). Ask, “Will you forgive me?” Be willing to allow the person some time to work through things.

 

Examples of biblical confessions:

“I realize I have not been treating you fairly and I want to change. Specifically, I have made it hard for you to pick up the kids and I have frequently brought them to your house late, cutting into your time with them. I plan to make every effort to have them there on time and ready when you to pick them up at my house. I’d like to make it up to you by allowing you to have them for Thanksgiving, even though it’s my turn. I want you to know that I’m sincere and I hope to prove it to you. Will you forgive me?”

“I want to ask forgiveness for lying about you in court. I told the judge that you were not a good mother/father. I also lied about how much money I make. I have damaged your reputation and cheated you out of child support. I plan to write the judge a letter and I will give a copy to you and both of our lawyers so the child support can be adjusted. Will you please forgive me?”

Some of you probably gasped when you read the second one. Taking responsibility for things like that runs contrary to the adversarial nature of the divorce process. But we are called to live radical lives … radically pleasing to God. And remember part of sincere repentance includes a willingness to accept the consequences of our actions.

 

Push Back from Your Current Spouse

 

Even though you may be convinced of the necessity of confession and restitution, your current spouse may or may not be completely on board, especially where either contact with your ex or financial repercussions are concerned.  Continue reading

“Tinkering with a Broken System” November 20

 

Tinkering with a Broken System - Most people would agree things in our nation are broken, but there's little agreement about what change is needed. Can we tinker with a broken system and expect to fix it?Most people would agree things in our nation are broken, but there’s little agreement about what change is needed. Can we tinker with a broken system and expect to fix it?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 31 & 32
Psalm 130.1-4
Proverbs 28.28
James 1.1-27

 

Tinkering with a Broken System

 

Ezekiel 31 & 32:

Morality, Tolerance & Equality

 

In chapters 31 and 32 God continues to speak to Egypt, perhaps more as a warning to His people that they could no longer turn to worldly powers like Egypt for help and protection. In chapter 31 He compared Egypt to a great tree under which many had taken refuge, but which was about to be broken and destroyed.

Egypt is also a picture of the world and the world’s system. As a nation, we have attempted to live under that system. We have tried to legislate morality, tolerance, and equality. We have expected the government to provide for every need or imagined need, but our system, too, is broken.

The problem is the world’s version of morality, tolerance and equality is not one based on God’s Word and His standard. We are expected to “tolerate” things that are contrary to biblical morality. Equality is no longer about equal opportunity to work hard and make your way in the world, it’s about taking from one and giving to another. And morality is a morality that turns biblical morality on its ear.

No matter how much we “tinker” with our broken system, as long as it’s based on a faulty foundation, it will never have the ability to fix what is wrong in our nation. As believers we must look to God in our own lives and pray for genuine heart change in the lives of others.  Continue reading

“Should we submit to church authority?” November 19

 

Should we submit to church authority?

How should we view church authority? Should we submit to our church leaders? What is our responsibility? How does God use this “to watch out for our souls”?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 29 & 30
Psalm 129.5-8
Proverbs 28.27
Hebrews 13.1-25

 

Should we submit to church authority?

 

Hebrews 13.1-25:

Church Authority

 

Should we submit to church authority?

Verse 7 says, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”

And verse 17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

In a day and age when we value our independence and “rights” so much, this can be hard for us to accept. God is a God of order and He puts a great emphasis on authority. This passage says, “Obey those who rule over you”—our pastors and elders—“… for they watch out for your souls …” Just as He does in marriage and the family, God works through imperfect people to lead and guide His children for their good and protection.

Our responsibility is to become part of a biblical New Testament church, one that is teaching the Word of God and encouraging the growth of its members. We should become active members by making ourselves accountable to others within the church community, using our gifts to serve one another, praying for each other and our leaders, and submitting to the authority of the church leadership (unless we are asked to violate a clear command of Scripture).  Continue reading

“Where is God When Life is Hard?” November 18

 

When Life is Hard - Where is God when life is hard? Does He allow tests and trials in our lives because He is angry? How should we respond to His discipline and what are the dangers of rejecting it?Where is God when life is hard? Does He allow tests and trials in our lives because He is angry? How should we respond to His discipline and what are the dangers of rejecting it?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 27 & 28
Psalm 129.1-4
Proverbs 28.26
Hebrews 12.1-29

 

When Life is Hard

 

Hebrews 12.1-29:

God Our Perfect Parent

 

When Life Is Hard

This chapter talks about the discipline or the chastening of the Lord. When we go through difficult times, the devil tempts us to believe that it’s because God doesn’t love us or because we aren’t really believers or that we must have done something so horrible that He will no longer help us.

But in reality, the opposite is true. This chapter clearly tells us that “whom the Lord loves He chastens.” So whether we are chastened because of unrepentant sin, pruned so that we will bear more fruit (Jn. 15), or suffering the consequences of our own choices (Gal. 6.7-9), it is proof that God loves us.

As Psalm 119.71 says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” and verse 75 adds, “in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”

Pastor James MacDonald has done a wonderful, life-changing series based on Hebrews 12.5-17 entitled When Life Is Hard. In it he explains the importance of understanding how God as the Perfect Parent lovingly disciplines His children, how He does it because He loves us, and how He uses it for our good.

He also outlines the dangerous process that can happen to someone who rejects God’s discipline. That person can become discouraged and then bitter. That bitterness can defile everything and everyone around it. And, if those attitudes are not dealt with, it can lead to profane living and, finally, rejection.

 

Today’s Other Readings:

 

Ezekiel 27 & 28:

Pride & Humility

 

God continues to speak through the prophet, this time to Tyre, a coastal city in modern Lebanon famous for its trade and goods. In 28.11-17 he speaks to the King of Tyre. This passage and others in the Bible, especially in the prophetic books and the Psalms, have duel meanings. While it is addressed to the historical king and city, it also speaks of Satan who was the power behind the King of Tyre.  Continue reading

“What is the key to the Christian life?” November 17

 

Key to the Christian Life

What is the key to the Christian life?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 25 & 26
Psalm 128.1-6
Proverbs 28.25
Hebrews 11.17-40

 

What is the key to the Christian life?

 

Hebrews 11.17-40:

Hall of Fame of Faith

 

As we continue through the “Hall of Fame of Faith,” notice that all the Old Testament saints listed throughout this chapter received the blessings of God “by faith.” They didn’t achieve great things for God because of any inherent goodness in them, nor did they receive it because of their own bravery or intelligence or any other characteristic, but rather, through faith. The same is true today.

In fact, faith runs through all our readings today: faith to be saved (Eph. 2.8-9), faith to trust God’s ways in our Proverbs reading, faith to live the Christian life (2 Cor. 5.7), faith in prayer (Jas. 1.6, 5.15), faith to keep us from the pride we see condemned throughout Proverbs, and more …

We are to do all that we do in faith. In fact, Scripture says, anything not done in faith is sin (Rom. 14.23). We might even say that faith is the key to the Christian life. Over and over again we must put our faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross, the Holy Spirit’s power, and the Father’s faithfulness in our lives.

 

Today’s Other Readings:

 

Ezekiel 25 & 26:

Those Who Put Their Faith in Him

 

In these two chapters God was declaring his intent to bring judgment on the pagan nations around Judah and Israel. But even while He brought judgment on those nations, He always responded in mercy to anyone who put his or her faith in Him. We see a great example of this in our New Testament reading in Hebrews where we are told that Rehab, a harlot, was saved because she put her faith and trust in the One True God (Heb. 11.31).  Continue reading

“Trusting God in Suffering” November 16

 

Trusting God in SufferingWhen God asks you to trust Him in the difficult things: when He doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers, when your child isn’t getting better, when the finances still seem impossible, when the doctor hands you a bad report … where will you go? Where will you find hope? What will you believe about God?

Trusting God makes all the difference in times of suffering. What can we learn about God that will steady us in tough times?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 23 & 24
Psalm 127.1-5
Proverbs 28.24
Hebrews 11.1-16

 

Trusting God in Suffering

 

Ezekiel 23 & 24:

Understanding Suffering

 

What if God called you to make the sacrifice that Ezekiel had to make—losing his wife and not even being allowed to grieve (24.15-18)? Could you trust God to give you the strength to do it? Or would you fall into self-pity or a “why me” attitude?

How would you respond if the child you raised to love God becomes a prodigal, throwing aside everything you believe? Would you still trust God?

What if the doctor handed you a bad report? Or your child didn’t get better? Would you still believe that God is good?

What if you or your spouse lost a job or your savings or your retirement plan? Would you still be able to trust Him to meet your needs?

I know for some of you these questions aren’t hypothetical, they are reality. The truth is suffering is a part of life in this fallen world. Someone has said that we’re either in the midst of trial, coming out of one, or getting ready to go into one.

They may vary in degree and some may be easier to handle than others, but we all suffer.

When God asks you to trust Him in the difficult things: when He doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers, when your child isn’t getting better, when the finances still seem impossible, when the doctor hands you a bad report … where will you go? Where will you find hope? What will you believe about God?

Could you say with the psalmist, “I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (Ps. 119.75)?

 

How to Grow in Trust

 

It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know.

When your toddler jumps into your arms in the swimming pool for the first time, he doesn’t trust his ability to swim, he trusts you because he knows you. When your doctor says she needs to do surgery, you’ll either trust her diagnosis, or you’ll get another opinion.

A toddler learns to trust his parents because of his experience with them. You may come to trust your doctor because of her care and knowledge in other situations or because someone you know recommended her. But somehow we must have knowledge of a person if we’re to trust in them.

We trust God first by faith. We make the choice to believe His Word and to respond to His wooing, but we walk it out by coming to know Him through His Word.

 

What can we know about God that will steady us in trials and suffering? 

Continue reading

“Church: Necessary or Optional?” November 15

 

Church: Necessary or Optional?How do you view church attendance and involvement? Is it a requirement for a Christian? Is it a duty? Is it even necessary?

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 21 & 22
Psalm 126.1-6
Proverbs 28.23
Hebrews 10.19-39

 

Church: Necessary or Optional?

 

Hebrews 10.19-39:

 Fellowship with God & Others

 

The writer of Hebrews sums up this section on the superiority of Christ’s priesthood by saying that we should enter into His presence with boldness, “a full assurance of faith,” and a clear conscience. What a privilege we have to become children of God and have that personal relationship with Him.

But what about our personal relationships within the body of Christ? How important is fellowship with other believers? How do you view church attendance and involvement? Is it a requirement for a Christian? Is it a duty? Is it even important?

Part of how God speaks to us and answers our questions and prayers is through one another. It’s part of how He grows us, teaches us, encourages us, and reproves us.

We are to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10.24-25).

I believe we should all be members of, and actively involved in, a good Bible-believing church. There are times in all of our lives when we need the love and encouragement of others. We also need others to hold us accountable. That isn’t possible if all we do is come to church and slip out the back door, as if we’re fulfilling some “church attendance requirement.” We need to get involved in some area of ministry and grow as part of a smaller group in Bible study, discipleship, and fellowship.

Do you agree or disagree? How do you view attendance at worship services and the importance of church involvement? Is it optional or a requirement? What do you believe it means to be a disciple and why? Share your thoughts at the bottom of this post.

 

Today’s Other Readings:

 

Ezekiel 21 & 22:

Patiently Inviting & Warning

 

As we read the prophets it may seem that God is saying the same things over and over. It’s easy to get weary of reading them. But as we read these prophesies concerning God’s judgment, we need to remember that God repeats things because we need to hear them … repeatedly. It’s His mercy and patience at work.

Even today, God has faithful men and women who continue to sound the alarm, to warn of the dangers of sin and compromise in our society. But many want to cover their ears, or worse, attack those who speak truth. They call us homophobes, mean-spirited, and narrow-minded and accuse us of trying to force our beliefs on others. But we need to be like faithful Noah who both encouraged others to get into the ark and warned of the coming flood. We need to speak the truth in love, inviting others to come into the ark of salvation while warning of the judgment to come. Continue reading

“Are you playing spiritual games?” November 14

 

Are you playing spiritual games? - God will not play spiritual pat-a-cake with us by allowing us to seek His help while we continue turning to our idols and self-efforts. If God doesn't seem to be answering our prayers, maybe we need to ask ourselves, "Am I playing spiritual games with God?"God will not play spiritual pat-a-cake with us by allowing us to seek His help while we continue turning to our idols and self-efforts. If God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers, maybe we need to ask ourselves, “Am I playing spiritual games with God?”

 

Today’s Readings:
Ezekiel 19 & 20
Psalm 125.1-5
Proverbs 28.22
Hebrews 10.1-18

 

Are you playing spiritual games?

 

Ezekiel 19 & 20:

Spiritual Patty-Cake

 

As you’re reading the book of Ezekiel, it might help to remember that this book does not follow Jeremiah chronologically. Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah, although Jeremiah was about 20 years older and began his prophetic ministry over 30 years earlier. Their prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem and the various deportations cover the same events, but while Jeremiah was prophesying to the people in Jerusalem and later in Egypt where he was forced to go late in his ministry, Ezekiel was prophesying in Babylon to those who had been taken captive.

In chapter 20, some of the elders of Israel living in captivity came to Ezekiel and asked him to seek the Lord on their behalf. But it’s obvious from God’s response that, despite coming to the prophet, they continued with their idolatry.

Sometimes we forget that the events of the Old Testament are historically true. These were real people and real events.

And if we’re honest, at the heart level, they were not that much different from us. How many times have we prayed and asked God for help and wisdom while we continue to try to work things out in our own strength and in our own way? How often have we turned to our idols for help (something sweet to comfort ourselves, a drink to help us relax, buying something to lift our spirits …) or manipulation (getting angry, pouting, crying, withholding affection …) in order to control someone or something? Continue reading