February 2022

Rejoice in the blessings you have

While the world rumbles along in an ever-decreasing trajectory of discontentment, ignoring God’s daily provisions, this is NOT true of God’s children. A hymn often sung in my childhood Church was “Count your blessings” composed in 1897 by Johnson Oatman. I was privileged to grow up in a small rural community, and in a family that celebrated what God had gifted us with more than complain about or envy the things we didn’t have (Mk 7:22). My parents understood that God’s graces are incalculable, beyond comparison, and we were to be thankful.
Rejoice in the blessings you haveSadly, when people exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25), they become self-centred, discontented, and ungrateful towards God. They say to God, Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. 15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ (Job 21:14-15).

Whereas believers in the Lord rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house… (Deuteronomy 26:11). The heart attitude is different because the heart relationship is different. On one hand, disbelief, or artificial belief, swallows all negative information thrown against God. But believers delight greatly in the Lord… (Isaiah 61:10).

In Joshua 23:14, just before Joshua died, he addressed Israel, reminding them of God’s faithfulness. “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Like Joshua, I’m sure that Johnson Oatman had God’s faithfulness in mind when he composed…
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

While faith feels the realities of life, it also sees God in life and counts out the blessings He gives. Even through the darkest times, faith is first and foremost grateful for spiritual realities and the security of eternal life. Second, faith recognises God’s kind provisions regardless of the surrounding circumstances, and says, ‘thank you.’

This is because believers know they have been justified by faith, (therefore) we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). As Jesus stated, peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives… (John 14:27). As believers, we are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15). Two things are unmistakable of those declared innocent by God; they have peace from God, and they worship God. When sinners receive peace through Christ, worship follows, fuelled by gratitude for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

The point is this, keeping our minds and affections firmly attached to the Lord Jesus Christ is critical if we hope to rise above the struggles of life and maintain a truly thankful attitude. To KNOW Christ is peace and joy, but to have NO Christ is disillusionment and ends only in despair and condemnation.

Therefore, give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always (1 Chronicles 16:8-11).

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Holy Spirit Understanding

As I age, I sometimes think, ‘I wish I understood 40 years ago what I understand now.’ What would I have done differently? What different paths would I have walked? What different relationships would I have pursued? You see, knowledge is one thing, but understanding that knowledge and how to action it is a different matter altogether. Understanding opens the possibility for wisdom and Christlike insight into life which can change our choices and actions.
Holy Spirit Understanding
Amidst the noise and busyness of life, God the Holy Spirit ministers from within us that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). Experiences, in and of themselves, are not the Holy Spirit’s goal for the believer. Rather, understanding clearly what God has graciously given us through Christ and for God’s glory, this is His purpose. It is the believer’s understanding of God that opens up the possibility of living more Christlike with growth towards maturity. This understanding can also open up opportunities for service for God which were never before imagined. Knowledge without applied understanding is powerless, ineffective, and unproductive for God.

It is understanding that lifts the believer above the frustrations of life, and above selfish desires. This is because understanding generated by the Holy Spirit is God focused and God glorifying. It is the Holy Spirit who invisibly manufactures His understanding within the believer? Paul continues to explain that we impart this (understanding) in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).

The Holy Spirit searches the depths of God (1Co 2:10) and translates those truths of God into understandable language and thoughts within the believer (1Co 2:11). The Holy Spirit does not do this through fresh extrabiblical revelation or experience, but through His Word which contains spiritual truth. His words are easily found and identified in the Bible, as it was the Holy Spirit who authored the Bible (2Pe 1:20-21). There is no mystery here. There is no elevation of self with unique access to heavenly information that no one else can access. No, this is simply God the Spirit granting understanding to the believer who spends time mediating and praying over the Word of God with a soft-hearted attitude.

This is what happens when you let the word of Christ dwell in you richly… (Colossians 3:16a). The Holy Spirit illumines, He clarifies, and He awakens our thinking to deeper levels of understanding about the things He has written in Scripture. This, however, comes at a cost to the child of God. Time, energy, and surrenderedness are required. This means there must be an exchange of priorities and activities within the life of God’s child. In this way the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) is taken hold of and enabled for standing against the attacks of the enemy. As with all the other pieces of spiritual armour supplied by God (Eph 6:13-18), believers cannot be passive or half-hearted with their handling of God’s Word.

As we grow in the faith, so our understanding of God’s Word increases. With this comes the ability and responsibility to use our understanding of Scripture for God’s purposes. The Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, equips us to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). May we encourage and enable one another to be people of God’s Word, always growing in our understanding as the Holy Spirit walks with us and uses us for God’s glory.

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Salvation is just the beginning of discipleship

Initially, new believers are discipled by a more mature believer. However, during Christian life the new believer introduces others to Christ. This makes them a discipler of others while still being discipled themselves. This is excellent!
Salvation is just the beginning of discipleship
The wonderful thing about God’s design for discipleship is that at every stage, and at every level of spiritual maturity, all disciples are to be somewhere in the process of being taught the truths of Christ while teaching those truths to others. Jesus gave clear and achievable goals for the mission of discipleship when He said, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… (Matthew 28:20).

Discipleship, which is teaching others to be followers of Christ, requires instruction. People do not put obedient faith in Jesus without being taught the gospel (Rom 10:14-15). New believers do not grow to maturity without being taught the doctrines and disciplines of Christlike living and how to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Matthew 28:16-20 tells of Jesus’ 11 remaining disciples, who had learned much in their 3 years with Him. But, as Jesus returned to glory, they had to become teachers on Jesus’ behalf. They were to be dependent upon the Lord and the soon to arrive Holy Spirit for every resource needed for effective discipleship. Jesus assured them that when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth… he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14).

  • The students of Jesus’ 11 disciples would be the people they taught the gospel to, and they would teach these students everything that Jesus had taught them over the previous 3 years.
  • They were to teach Jew, Gentile, and all ethnic groupings equally; saved and unsaved, religious, and irreligious people alike. They were to pass on everything they had received from Jesus, even the things they did not fully understand themselves.
  • They were to teach from the Old Testament as Jesus did and explain the parables as Jesus did. There was to be no subject overlooked or ignored.
  • They were to be permanent students, always learning how to better teach others on Jesus’ behalf. Always growing in their understanding of the Scriptures and how to explain God’s Word more clearly so others could understand and obey better.
  • This would require faith, determination, unity, a willingness to share resources, and a willingness to help each other as they worked together for Jesus.
  • They were to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament Scriptures (2Pe 1:22), followers of Jesus had greater access to the mind of God the Holy Spirit through His written Word.
  • And finally, they were to teach their students to go and sacrificially do the same, making disciples on Jesus’ behalf many times during their lifetime.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence… (2 Peter 1:3). For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).

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God desires growth not distraction

An often-misunderstood subject is that of Christian maturity. Just as we would think something very wrong if a baby fails to grow and mature physically, so it is equally wrong if a believer in Jesus Christ fails to grow and mature spiritually. A babies growth demands routine feeding, washing, clothing, possibly medication, human interaction, and exercise. These essentials enable growth and maturing, and they must be facilitated by parents or caregivers. These are the non-negotiable necessities of life.
God desires growth not distraction
Likewise, believers in Jesus Christ, from rebirth onwards, require routine feeding, washing, clothing, spiritual exhortation, fellowship, and exercise through service. There are no exceptions, and no valid excuses for stepping aside from or resisting these God given essentials. Similarly, there is no justification for preventing, withholding, or limiting these life-critical elements from other believers.

Peter’s exhortation to grow in our salvation has no expiry date (1Pe 2:2), because growth is the correct response for all who have tasted that the Lord is good (1Pe 2:3). In fact, Peter says our desire for spiritual growth should reflect the craving of a new baby for milk, and this milk is the living and abiding word of God (1Pe 1:23).

Proclaiming Christ was central to the apostle Paul’s teaching, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (Colossians 1:28-29). Paul, like Peter, understood the necessity for Christ centered biblical teaching that would stimulate spiritual growth. Regardless of his struggles and the many setbacks he experienced from others, Paul persevered in this task with unparalleled tenacity.

For Paul, spiritual growth towards maturity (Christlikeness) was not optional, nor could it be exchanged for any worldly focus which would distract from it. However, the arch enemy of God, accompanied by our fleshly humanness, seek to interfere with God’s plan for spiritual growth towards maturity in Christ. Jesus included this in His parable of the seed in Luke 8:14. As for what (seed) fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

More than ever, those who hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, who have the Word of God faithfully invested into them, are confronted by the world’s loud and persistent voices demanding to take the place of authority in their minds. Sadly, all too often, the world’s compelling messages convince the listener that the cares and riches and pleasures of life are to take priority over Christ.

God’s ingenious and protective design for His people is that they will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14). This is discovered within the local Church, where Christ provides teaching leaders to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

May the year 2022 be a year when distractions are pushed aside, and Christ and His Word alone take the place of authority. May we pursue Christlike growth for His glory and the sharing of His gospel.

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