An Open Book Exam to Test the Spirits

September 17, 2018

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1

Test the spirits? That sounds a bit creepy or just plain weird. It seems like something outside the normal person’s expertise and abilities. Maybe we should leave such a thing to scientists. Although perhaps we would find that most scientists have moved beyond a belief in the spirit world. Maybe we need to call the Ghostbusters.

Seriously, today’s encouragement from God’s Word through the pen of a man named John is a vital matter that has critical consequences. God, who himself is spirit (John 4:24), tells us that there is a spirit world. He tells us that not every spirit comes from him. Not every spirit is good and faithful, trustworthy and true.

The chief of those evil spirits is called the devil or Satan. He is an angel who was created good but rebelled against God and was cast out of heaven. Satan and those evil angels, often called demons or devils, who followed him now roam the earth seeking to lead people away from God. They do their destructive work by speaking lies about God to deceive people about the way to have a peace-filled relationship with God. They most often do their deadly work through human beings called “false prophets.”

But how do we test spirits? Not by their personality, eloquence, passion, or sincerity. Test the spirits…by the message that is spoken. God’s Word—the Bible—reveals God’s truth in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Truth. During his life here on earth he spoke the truth from his own mouth. Now from heaven he still speaks through God’s Word recorded in the Bible. It is an open book. He speaks through true and faithful messengers who believe the Bible to be truth and speak it clearly and correctly.

Not everybody who claims to speak the truth of God speaks truthfully. Some are counterfeits. People trained to spot counterfeit currency are first trained to thoroughly and accurately know the genuine thing. Because of this training, they can easily pick out the fake. John, as a dear friend, encourages us to compare the message we hear with the message of God in the Bible. That means we need to read and know our Bible. We need to diligently seek out and surround ourselves with teachers who know the Scriptures and speak God’s truth faithfully. We need to connect ourselves to churches that seek out and speak God’s gospel truth. True spirits will point us to the Truth—Jesus Christ—who is our Savior from sin and the source of every blessing.

In view of God’s mercy, why wouldn’t we daily resist the world’s efforts to mold us like Play-Doh? Rather, take God’s word to heart to transform your mind, making you new each day.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, we daily need your help. Help us to test the spirits by knowing your truth and then comparing what we hear to what you say. Give us wisdom and discernment as we seek to grow in our relationship with you. In your saving name, Amen.

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Just like Play Doh

September 10, 2018

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy … Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:1-2

Little hands shape Play-Doh into so many things: hot dogs, stars, and colorful creatures. And when they finish they make something else.

How much like Play-Doh we are! What is molding our hearts, minds, and character? Either the world is shaping us to conform to its standards, or the Lord is changing us inside and out.

The world works hand-in-hand with our inborn, sinful nature. An advertisement leaves us dissatisfied with what God has given. A movie scene or Internet picture stirs lustful desires. Another person’s harsh words kindle our resentment.

Even potentially good virtues like hard work, family values, and self-reliance become ungodly in the world’s hands. Work or family can become more important than our Savior. Self-reliance can fail to fully rely on God, and it can foster indifference towards the needs of others.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But how? How can we resist the power of this world? Look at what the apostle writes: “In view of God’s mercy.”

The preceding chapters of Romans laid out the wonders of God’s mercy. The opening verses proclaimed the gospel of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. What mercy! Our own sin made us worthless. Yet even though all have sinned, God has freely justified all, because Jesus paid the ransom by sacrificing himself in our place. God justifies the wicked. He gives us a clean record. Faith believes the good news of this verdict. Only by faith in Christ, and not by works, we have access to God and rejoice in the hope of glory. “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).

In view of God’s mercy, why wouldn’t we daily resist the world’s efforts to mold us like Play-Doh? Rather, take God’s word to heart to transform your mind, making you new each day.

Prayer:

Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Thou art the potter I am the clay
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still

Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Search me and try me Master today
Whiter than snow Lord wash me just now
As in Thy presence humbly I bow

Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Hold over my being absolute sway
Filled with Thy spirit till all can see
Christ only always living in me. Amen.


God, I Want Some Answers!

September 3, 2018

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. – Romans 11:33-36

What will be the first question you ask God when you get to heaven? Maybe you will want to ask about something that happened in the Bible: “Lord, what really happened to the Ark of the Covenant?” Or maybe you will want to ask about something from history: “Lord, why did you allow those planes to crash into the Twin Towers?” Perhaps your question for the Lord will be on a more personal level: “Lord, why didn’t you give Grandpa more years with us on earth before taking him home?”

Like so many other passages in Scripture, these words from Romans remind us that God knows infinitely more than we ever will. Thankfully, our God is many times smarter and more knowledgeable than we are. He sees the whole picture while we often are left to wonder why he did this or allowed that. Often, we sinfully doubt God or question his will. We get frustrated and demand to know why he is doing what he is doing. As Christians we do well to simply trust him and know that his will in the end is always so much better than we could ever have thought or imagined.

That is certainly the case with God’s plan of salvation. From the beginning, God had a plan to save us from sin, death, and hell. It’s a plan we maybe haven’t always understood fully, but what a wonderful plan it was! In a nutshell, the plan was to send his only Son into this world and to sacrifice him for a world full of sinners. That’s not what we would have come up with. Our plan might have involved some way to try to earn our own way to heaven; a plan that could only end in failure and eternal condemnation. God’s ways are so much higher than ours! He sent Jesus to be our Savior from sin and promised that through faith in him we will receive eternal life in heaven. “To him be the glory forever!”

We will always have lots of questions in this life. We may at times wonder why God does what he does. One thing we need never question is God’s love for us. He has proved it in sending Jesus. With hearts full of love for our Savior, we trust God to continue to do what he knows to be best for us.

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, I am often full of questions. Thank you for planning my salvation through Jesus. Help me to trust in you and your will and to know that your plan is always good. Amen.


In Mercy God Doesn’t Remember

August 27, 2018

You who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy. – Romans 11:30

The story goes something like this. Long ago, in a faraway land, there was an old man in a small village. The old man was a Christian. He also had the reputation for receiving direct messages from God. One day another Christian came through that village—a Christian haunted by his past. When people told him about the old man, he didn’t know what to think. And so, he decided to try a test. He went to meet the old man. Then he told the old man this. He said, “I am a Christian, but for years I have been carrying the guilt of a terrible sin. The next time you talk to God, would you please ask him to tell you what that terrible sin was?” The old man agreed.

The next day, the two met again. “Did you talk to God last night?” “Yes, I did,” said the old man. “Did you ask him to tell you about my terrible sin?” “Yes, I did,” the old man replied.

“And what did God tell you?”

In a strong, clear voice the old man answered, “He told me to tell you…that he doesn’t remember.”

When God speaks to you and me in the Bible about his forgiving mercy through faith in Jesus, many times you and I do not fully grasp what he means. Just because we often cling to memories of sins from the past, we assume that God does too. But that assumption is wrong.

Here is the truth. God was determined to wash away our sins of disobedience. He was determined to wash them away once and for all. And he did. He spilled the blood of his own Son to do it. Then he raised him from death to assure us that the guilt of our sin is gone. But not only is it gone from our record. It is even gone from God’s memory. As God has already said, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

That’s what God means by mercy. And that is the mercy we possess through faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God of mercy, so often I choose to cling to memories of sins from my past. But you do not. Help me to absorb this truth. With your gospel, heal my wounded heart. Amen.


You Are What You Eat

August 20, 2018

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” – John 6:51

“What’s to eat?” That’s the question heard daily, and the answer can be found in the refrigerator, the pantry, or the cupboard. Often one of those sources provides a solution and hunger is satisfied.

“What’s to eat?” This question can be understood in a completely different way. Instead of focusing on an empty stomach, it can also focus on the empty soul. What satisfies this hunger?

Many people look for answers in all sorts of places. Most rely on what I must do to satisfy the hunger pangs of my guilty soul. Unfortunately, all these self-reliant solutions will only leave me hungry. Worse yet, I soon come to the realization I am dying from spiritual starvation. Where do I turn to find life-giving bread that feeds my hungry soul?

The answer is found only in Jesus. His words are simple, yet profound: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” There is no doubt about what Jesus offers. It is bread which gives life. Not only does it fill my starving soul, it also nourishes me with eternal life.

Jesus can rightly offer this living bread from heaven. As the source of life, he came into this starving and death-ridden world. He endured the pain, the emptiness, and even the horrible death it demanded. He triumphed over everything, and with his victory he offers food that gives life.

This life-giving bread is mine only through faith. When I put my complete trust in him and in his precious work, my hungry soul is filled. No longer do I search to find nourishment. No longer do I yearn to be filled. No longer am I resigned to endless starvation and death. Jesus is my life-giving bread from heaven. Daily I long to eat what he offers, and joyfully I find the food which gives eternal life.

Prayer: O gracious Jesus, bread of life from heaven, come and feed me with your life-giving food that my hungry soul may be filled. Amen.


Is It Your Tummy or Your Heart?

August 13, 2018

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”. – John 6:26-27

Crowds were always following Jesus. They became even larger and more determined after he fed them. For most leaders, they would welcome the crowds and their adulation. Jesus was not your typical leader, though. This became clear from his observation: “You are looking for me because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” His point was clear. The people were more interested in having him fill their stomachs than their hearts.

Jesus’ observation should make me seriously consider my motives when I come in prayer. Do I seek him only to fill my empty stomach, or do I want him to fill my empty heart? The answer is critical for my eternal well-being.

On a daily basis I urgently pray for the obvious needs of my stomach. Earthly problems are a concern. Earthly emergencies demand attention. Earthly conflicts need solutions. In contrast, I must confess the needs of my heart are not as pressing. Still, I need a stronger faith. I need the peace of forgiveness. I need greater strength to overcome temptation. My prayer life is a good indicator as to which is more important—my stomach or my heart.

What I find comforting is that Jesus always responds first and foremost to the needs of my heart. He gives me his Word to refresh me. He gives me his forgiveness to renew me. He gives me his Spirit to regenerate me. In the end, what more could I ever want for my heart’s desire?

Still, I struggle. My stomach is powerful. It controls my decisions, and it makes countless demands. Yet, my heart strengthened by the Lord is more powerful. It leads me to make God-pleasing decisions, and it helps me recognize what is most important.

How blessed I am to live with a heart filled with Jesus and his rich blessings.

Prayer: O faithful Savior, teach me to recognize what I truly need. Guide me in every prayer. Fill my heart with your gracious presence. Amen.


My Way or God’s Way?

August 6, 2018

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, … “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. – 1 Kings 3:5-6, 9-12

We’ve seen it depicted in so many different ways. A man finds a lamp or a bottle. He rubs the bottle and out pops a genie. “I’ll grant you one wish, whatever you want.” How many times haven’t we thought, “I’d wish for more wishes!”

King Solomon was presented with a similar situation, only it wasn’t a genie in a bottle offering to grant a wish, it was God himself. Imagine being in Solomon’s place! “Whatever you want…” God said. How would you have answered?

We’d all like to think we would have answered honorably. Truthfully, though, we likely would have answered the way that God describes in verse 11. Our sinful nature would have asked for unlimited wealth or a long life or that someone who has hurt us gets hurt just as badly. Yet, all of those things are selfish. They only seek to serve us and not serve God.

Solomon realized the great responsibility placed before him as the king God chose for his people. So he asked God for the wisdom to choose between right and wrong. Solomon knew that he would choose poorly if left to himself. So he asked for God’s blessing to choose wisely. And God was pleased.

Each and every day we face a battle. We battle between choosing what God wants and what our sinful nature wants. If left to ourselves, our sinful nature would always win. But we are not left to ourselves. Because of Jesus’ saving work, we have been given the Holy Spirit. He works in us through his Word to help us choose what God wants, to discern between right and wrong. He strengthens us by the power of the gospel so that we can show our thankfulness to God for all that he has done for us. And there’s nothing better we could ask for!

Prayer: Gracious Savior, thank you for giving us your Spirit that we might distinguish between right and wrong and in so doing, serve you in thankfulness. Amen.