Authentic Faith

1 Peter 1:5-11

I recently had occasion to look at Louis Vuitton purses.  Yes, they are known for their style and elegance, but maybe more well known for their ridiculous prices.  As such, many people will do whatever it takes to carry one on their arm.  “Whatever it takes” means that many people will fake it.  That’s right, not every purse you see with the Louis Vuitton logo is made by Louis Vuitton.  Many of these fakes seem so real that it takes a trained eye to detect them.  This is exactly what the apostle Paul is helping us understand today in 1 Peter 1:5-11.  Just like designer handbags, there are many people that want all the benefits of faith without paying the price.

Would you like to know if your faith is real?  Paul begins this scripture with one simple way to be sure.  He says that we need to add virtue to our faith.  Other versions use the words ‘moral excellence’ and ‘character’ in place of virtue.  These are the outward appearance of our inward faith.  The Greek translations use words like purity and modesty to define them.  Of course, the full reflection of our faith requires more than just virtue.  Paul adds self-control, steadfastness, Godliness, brotherly affection and love to the list.  As I read through that list, I hear the word obedience in the back of my head.  Now, that’s not a word that I like to use, but I cannot think of a better description.  In other words, Paul is telling us that obedience, as displayed through our virtue, self-control, steadfastness, Godliness, brotherly affection and love, is the outward proof of our faith.  As we consider that truth, we must consider how these traits manifest themselves in our own lives.  In addition, are they growing?

Paul hits us between the eyes in verse 9.  He clearly states that these are traits that need to be developed.  In other words, they need to be growing, continually.  This is where it gets hard.  If they are not growing, Paul exhorts us that we have forgotten about the gift given us by Jesus.  Let me say it very directly, if these traits are not growing in your life, you have no faith.  Ouch!

No, I don’t like thinking that maybe I have put my faith on hold.  No, I don’t like to be reminded that sometimes I get off track, taking my life into my own hands.  Why?  Because it puts me face to face with inauthentic faith.  Thankfully, I have been created by a loving God who relentlessly pursues a relationship with me.  Paul gets it right in verse 4.  He says, “by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” 2 Peter 1:4 (ESV).  There it is, God makes us authentic.  In fact, he promises authenticity to those who believe.  I don’t know of any other response to becoming authentic, than praise and worship.  Thank you Lord, for doing for me what I am not capable of doing for myself.

 

Look Closer

Luke 15:11-32

How many times have you read the story of the prodigal son?  My guess is that it’s a lot.  In fact, this BibleJournal blog has 10 articles about it.  Obviously, it is a valuable story.  Even so, I have to admit that I was a little bummed when I was assigned this scripture again.  I mean, hasn’t it all been said?  Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking, and I am thinking it too.  I need to check my pride at the door and take a closer examination of my life.  In so many ways, I am a prodigal son.  Today, however, I want to look at the story differently.  Let’s focus on the father.  We are, after all, trying to focus the character of God.  This familiar story reveals much about His character.  Here are four character traits of God that I see in it.

He gives us freedom  As did the father and prodigal son, we begin life in a relationship with God.   As time passes, however, we may refuse the relationship.  When we do, God does not seek to control us.  Instead, he allows us to pack up our gifts and talents and use them however we want.  It’s up to us.

He longs for us We don’t get details from this parable, but it’s there.  Consider for a moment how the father felt as his son was leaving, or maybe a year later.  He missed him.  The Bible has several stories about how God misses us when we choose something other than him.  In the parable of the lost sheep, for example, the shepherd leaves 99 sheep to search out the one missing (Matthew 18:12-14).  Or, the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10.  Isaiah 30:18 says it directly,  Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. (NIV)

He Forgives. While my view of forgiveness often gets distorted.  God’s is always the same.  Whatever our crime, whatever our transgression, God removes it.  As far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).

He establishes his kingdom within us. The father, in the story reminds the second son that “you are always with me and everything that is mine, is yours.”  God doesn’t hold anything back to those that love him.  He gives us his kingdom, literally.   We are reminded of this in the book of Acts.  As the disciples share the love of God, they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).  Galatians 5:22-24 expounds on this.  His kingdom in us looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

We can discern God’s character by the actions of the father in this parable..  If I were to sum it up, I would use one word; love. What better scripture to encapsulate it than 1 Corinthians 13:4-8?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)

Watch out!

James 1:1-12

I can hear the voices in my head that say “don’t pray for wisdom.”  They come from everyone, including friends, peers, mentors, and yes, even pastors.  Often, the phrase is followed with a nervous chuckle, or a sideways glance so that the listener gets the real message.  What is the real message?  Today, in James 1, we get an opportunity to look a little closer.  Specifically, verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who give generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

When I pull verse 5 out of James 1:2-12 and read it alone, I gain confidence.  Wisdom is at my fingertips.  All I have to do is ask.  Why wouldn’t I want to be wise?  I can’t lose.  To do so, however, is like removing Christ’s ugly death from the gospel.  It doesn’t work.  Instead, we need to consider the whole message.  Read now, verse 2 and 3.  They say, “Consider it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  It is this verse that triggers the warnings from others.  They know where wisdom comes from.  James gets it right.  It comes from “the testing of your faith.”  This, then, is the beginning of wisdom.

What does testing of our faith look like?  I don’t know the design, only God knows that, but I do know the outcome.  Think of it like an automobile test.  Engineers deliberately crash a car to show its weak points.  Not only are they trying to make the car stronger, but also a safer environment for the driver.  I think faith testing looks similar.  When God reveals our weakness, he retools us and equips us so that we can be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v4).

When I think of faith testing in that way, I become a little braver, but I still have a hang-up.  I fear that God will apply wisdom to areas that I don’t want him to.  It likely comes from areas of my life that I am neglecting or maybe in disobedience.  When it comes to asking God for wisdom, I experience guilt or even shame because of my faulty life.  The fear these feelings produce will inevitably keep me from praying for wisdom.  Once again, we need to look closely at the scriptures for truth.  Reading verse 5, I quickly see that God gives generously.  It’s not until I look more closely that I see also that he gives “without reproach.”  Do you know what that means?  It means that God gives it without disapproval or disappointment.  Wow, really?!  Really.  God gives wisdom generously with his full approval granting us success and good fortune.

I am thankful for James 1 and the truth provided about wisdom.  I am also devastated.  He reveals my complete lack of understanding.  I see more clearly, today, that it is not wisdom that I lack.  It is faith.

Childlike

Luke 18:15-17 (ESV) Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

I love that Jesus welcomed the presence of children.  They were not a bother, an irritation or a distraction.  In fact, He paints a picture of children that is wildly different.  It is they, he says, that they embody the kingdom of God.  How can that be?  They don’t even know God.  In fact, if I told them about God, and explained who He is, they wouldn’t even understand. So, how is it that the Kingdom is theirs?  There is one more question that is more important than all of these.  According to verse 17, our only hope for inheriting the kingdom of God is to do so, like a child.  How does that work?

Let’s be clear.  This parable is not about being childish, nor does it have anything to do with maturity.  God’s word clearly expresses our need to become mature believers in him.  1 Corinthians 14:20, for example, exhorts us to not be childish in our understanding.  We are to grow, being weaned off of milk and onto solid food (1 Cor 3:2).  So, how do we become mature and childlike at the same time?  Jesus wants us to embrace the attitudes of a child.  As I think about it, there are several things that a child has, naturally.  All of these, by the way, show up in spite of their environment.

  • Childlike is to let go of asserting their power or seeking honor.
  • Childlike is to be generous rather than jealous, or envious
  • Childlike is to not care about money. They don’t even have a concept of it
  • Childlike is to be content. This is why the box is more fun than the present.
  • Childlike is to be eager – keen or ardent in desire or feeling; impatiently longing:
  • Childlike is to be
  • Childlike is to be playful
  • Childlike is to be vulnerable
  • Childlike is to be inquisitive
  • Childlike is to be moldable and shapeable
  • Childlike is to be filled with wonder

As I read through this list, it is clear to me why Jesus loves children.  It is also a fantastic picture of the kingdom of God.  The best part is that it can be ours right now, today.  All you have to do is be those things.  Sounds impossible, right?  This is where the good news comes in.  Jesus, came to fill that gap for us.  The life that we cannot have on our own, he freely gives.  After all, “the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMiSXoP8eCg

Good Samaritans

Luke 10:30-37, Psalm 116

I am the good Samaritan.  That’s right, if I were walking down the road and a beaten man was lying there, I would help him.  It is my love for humanity and generosity that allow me to be so kind.  Do you believe that?  For what its wroth, I’m not sure that I believe it.  I want to, but my experience tells me otherwise.   How far, for example, do I go with it.  Just yesterday, I was sitting at a stop light watching a woman pull a suitcase through a busy intersection.  She was headed toward the airport, but still a couple of miles away.  My immediate thought was, “hey, I bet she could use a ride.”  I continued to watch her, eventually from my rearview mirror, as she made it across the street.  I felt relief when a man greeted her as she pulled her suitcase up on the curb.  That’s when I decided that she wasn’t heading to the airport at all.  She was probably headed to a nearby office and chose to walk so that she could get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather.

I’m hoping that you noticed the shift in my thoughts as I passed by the woman with the suitcase.  I had to change the story in my head.  Had I not, I would have been confronted with feelings that I don’t want to deal with.  For all of us, changing the story is one way that we are able to justify our actions.  Ironically, the same was true for the man the parable of the good Samaritan.  We find it in verse 29.  It says,  “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”   Sadly, my actions are no different than his.  They are just in a different context.

God doesn’t want us to justify our actions.  He wants us to confront them, head-on with full disclosure.  That is why he tells this parable.  His goal is not for us to wallow in guilt and shame, but to rest instead on his perfect grace.  As we do, He will give us the kindness, goodness and gentleness that we need to serve our neighbor perfectly.  Jesus, in fact, becomes our justification.

Weeds, Wheat and Worship

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

As I reflect on the parable of the weeds, I hear two things.  A strong warning and extraordinary hope.  First, we must remember that we are living among the weeds.  Without diligence, we will be distracted, our growth disrupted, and our destiny destroyed.  The faithful, however, thrive in the confusion.  Their hope is not found in the things of this world.  Instead, life is found in the creator, our living God.  How do they do it?  Can they help us remain faithful?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  Know God.

This is where it gets scary.  For me, at least, because I’m not sure that I really want to know God.  Dallas Willard explains my thoughts in his book, Knowing Christ Today.  He says, “we can fail to know because we do not want to know—because what would be known would require us to believe and act in ways contrary to what we want.”  Do you hear it?  It is the subtle choking of weeds telling us divergent stories.  These stories shift our focus ever so slightly from knowing God to knowing the world.  As you already know, the consequences are catastrophic.  Consider these words from Hosea 4:6,

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

If you want to know God, Psalm 104 is an amazing place to look.  Today, the Psalmist reminded me that yes, God is our wonderful creator.  And, he is much, much more.  When you spend time getting to know him as he Psalmist did, there is only one response.  Worship.  It’s written right there in verses 33-35.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! Psalms 104:33-35 (NLT)

 

Parables

Matthew 13:10-16, Psalms 92

When I was young, my favorite bedtime stories were from Aesop’s fables.  While I enjoyed the fantastical stories, I was fully enthralled with the lessons of morality encoded into them.  Now, as an adult, I see that this was my fathers clever strategy for teaching life lessons.  In fact, as I reflect on it, it was quite effective.  You see, fables make you think.  If you are willing to look deep into the story, they go to work on your character, stimulating thoughts about your own life, behaviors and responses.  Jesus, had a similar method.  He spoke in parables.  Instead of just teaching morality, however, he wanted us to see “the secrets of heaven” (Matthew 13:11).     But, there is a catch.  Like the fable, we have to be listening.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:11 that we are permitted to understand the secrets of his stories.  He goes on to say that some are not permitted.  Which has me wondering, why are some permitted to know and others are not?  The answer lies in the condition of your heart.  I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message.   He refers to a ready heart.  It reads, “whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely.”  Jesus then explains why he speaks in parables.  He says, “That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it” (Matthew 13:13, MSG).

If you haven’t guessed by now, we are going to take BibleJournal through the parables.  In each of these stories, we get a unique opportunity to see the kingdom of God.  I pray that our authors and readers will be listening closely, with ready hearts.  I trust we will as I rely on Jesus promise in Matthew 13:16, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Visual Acuity

Matthew 6:22-23, Psalms 80

I remember a sailing trip with my father.  I was standing in the cockpit with him and his friend looking at the islands a few miles away.  We were picking out landmarks that would help us identify our position.  But, there was a problem.  My dad could not see them.  We kept pointing to them and trying to direct him toward them, but it was no use.  He could not see.  Finally, our friend suggested that he try on his glasses.  The result was shocking.  Not only did my dad see the landmarks we were referring to, he could see everything.  He couldn’t believe it.  Even the leaves on trees were visible.  From that moment on, my dad saw the world differently.  He is not the only one.  According to Google (the ultimate truth for everything under the sun), 61% of the population uses corrective lenses of some type.  Why do they need them?  Simply put, our eyes are not healthy.

Today in Matthew 6:22-23, Jesus talks about the health of our spiritual eyes.  Have you ever considered how well you see spiritually?  When we take a cue from our physical eyes, the answer is not very encouraging.  In fact, our picture of God is really fuzzy and unclear.  When that is true, Godly choices are hard to make.  In fact, as the scripture points out, they may be flat out wrong.  Even worse, just like my dad, we don’t know that we don’t have the whole picture.  We are being led astray and don’t even know it!

Thankfully, just like our physical sight, we are able to improve our spiritual vision.  Consider these two distinct ways to test our spiritual sight.  First, is the Bible.  Psalm 119:105 says that God’s word is “a lamp unto our feet.” Additionally,  2 Peter 1:19 says that the light of scripture will light our path until our hearts can see clearly on their own.  The second significant source of clear spiritual vision is other believers.  Acts 2:42 tells us that through the teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers with other believers many are able to see clearly.

I am grateful for this opportunity with BibleJournal.  Every day, it presents a unique opportunity to see God rightly with a Biblical foundation in the presence of other believers.

The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15, Psalm 68

Why do you pray?  If you paused long enough to answer that question, take a close look.  Think about the last prayer your offered up.  What was it about?  Commonly, we pray from the worry and anxiety that fills our day.  Often, we pray because of the scarcity that shows up in our lives.  I think that it is time to consider what our prayers really say about us.  More so, what do our prayers reveal about our beliefs in God?

In his book about the Lords prayer, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. suggests that everything we believe about God is revealed in our prayers.  He says, “When we pray, we convey our entire theological system. Our theology is never so clearly displayed before our own eyes and before the world as in our prayers. Praying forces us to articulate our doctrines, convictions, and theological assumptions. These aspects of our Christian life come to a unique focus in prayer because when we speak to God we are explicitly revealing who we believe he is, who we believe we are, what his disposition toward us is, and why he has that disposition.”  Mohler’s comment is worth considering as we begin a deeper study of the Lord’s prayer. 

For the next several days, we get to assess our theology and see how it is revealed through our prayers.  Jesus tells us how.  As we listen, I pray, dear Holy Spirit, reveal your Truth to us.  Provide us with the courage to take an honest assessment of ourselves and equip us with a true understanding of who you are that we may exult and glorify you, as you deserve.

Mohler, Jr., R. Albert. The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution (p. 10). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Focus Time

Thank you for following BibleJournal.net.  To date, we have 817 journal entries with more than 48,000 views!  Our focus, has been reading entire chapters so that we can experience the Bible in its entirety.  Starting tomorrow, we are going to make a small change.  Our daily scripture reading is going to be drastically reduced.  The goal is intimacy rather than broad understanding.  Our topic for the next 45 days is the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  As always, you will continue to receive a link to the day’s reading along with a journal entry from one of our 12 writers.

I hope you enjoy the new format.  Either way, we would love to hear from you.  Leave a comment, or email me directly at bj@bjarmstrong.com.

Blessings,
BJA