What is God like?

Posted: September 21, 2017 in Thoughts on God

Answer the following question out loud: “What is God like?”

In today’s devotional verse, we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1 ESV

The “Word” John writes about is three things:

  1. Eternal;
  2. A distinct personality who is God’s companion;
  3. God himself.

Later in John 1, we discover that this “Word” also “became flesh and dwelt among us…the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

This Word is none other than Jesus himself. But isn’t that a funny way to introduce Jesus, as the “Word”?

Why would God be described this way?

There are many ways to answer this question, but one of the most straightforward is this: Jesus is the most perfect communication of who God is, what he cares about, and what his mission is in the world.

So if we want to know what God is like and who he is, we go to the Gospels and look at Jesus. Everything he said and did was exactly what the Father wanted him to say and do. His compassion, his brilliance, his backbone, his miracles, his heartache… Everything perfectly communicates the heart and personality of God.

Through Jesus, we can know exactly who God is.

How Jesus Answers, “What Is God Like?”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

John 14:9

When we look at Jesus, we see the clearest picture of who God is.
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For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.

John 12:49 ESV

When we listen to Jesus, we’re hearing God’s words from the Word himself. 
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Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

John 14:1

When we believe in Jesus, we’re trusting in God.
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If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

John 14:15

When we obey Jesus, we’re loving God.
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So, what is God like?

  • To look at Jesus is to look at God.
  • To listen to Jesus is to listen to God.
  • To believe in Jesus is to believe in God.
  • To obey Jesus is to love God.

Today, read one story about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and identify which one of the four things Jesus is revealing to you about God.

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Paul found himself in jail—again.

He was a repeat offender.

In and out of the penal system all of his adult life. In fact, he would end up dying in prison. But, as we know, he was much more than a common criminal.

The only laws he broke were those that stood against the advancement of God’s Kingdom. A radical departure from his former way of life!

In today’s devotional verse, he explains how he views his imprisonment:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Philippians 1:12-14 (ESV)

Today, we know Paul was innocent. The Philippians knew it, too. Heck, even Paul knew Paul was innocent!

But rather than don the mantle of a victim and cry, “Woe is me!”— Paul thought about and prayed for the Philippian church (Philippians 1:3-4).

Rather than be consumed with thoughts about himself and the injustice he suffered, he considered others and what was happening in their lives.

How did he do this?

How could he elevate his mind from dwelling solely on his circumstances to pray for others?

And then, to top it all off, how did he experience joy from this practice?

How Paul’s Trials Advance The Gospel

Paul did this because he understood what his trials were for. Plain and simple, he knew trials advance the Gospel. And at his core, that’s what Paul was all about.

That’s what he spent his life “being poured out as a drink offering” for.

Just like an upturned glass of fine merlot, Paul spilt everything he had to serve Jesus.

Paul knew that:

  1. His trials propelled the Gospel forward in a way that he couldn’t orchestrate via his own power, eloquence, or influence.
  2. His trials were used for the benefit of others, to build up, edify, and strengthen them.
  3. His trials served to make others bold in advancing the gospel alongside of him because of how he faced them.

Paul didn’t wallow in self-pity or launch a PR campaign to garner sympathy. Rather, he rejoiced that God was at work through both his circumstances and his attitude in them.

To our God, obstacles are opportunities. Because where human strength fails, God’s power shines.

All eyes can fixate and focus on the singular, undeniable power at work because no one could possibly take the credit except for him.

  • What’s your first reaction to trials in your life?
  • Do you believe your trials advance the Gospel?
  • When you are wronged or face injustice, do you see it as an opportunity to advance the Gospel, edify your brothers and sisters in Christ, and embolden the Church?
  • Where in your life can you prayerfully put this attitude into practice right now?
  • Do you expect joy or displeasure in this practice? Why?

Being the salt of the earth

Posted: September 19, 2017 in Thoughts on God

What does it mean to be the salt of the earth?

Today’s verse comes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13 ESV

Jesus says that when salt has lost its taste, it’s only good for being trampled beneath people’s feet.

So the big question is: “Are you salty?”

Here are three questions to ask yourself.

The Salt of the Earth Makes People Thirsty

One of the simplest things salt does is make people thirsty.

Chemically, salt makes us thirsty because our brain sends a signal to drink water to balance sodium levels in the blood.

While first-century folks wouldn’t have known the exact physiology of this, they didn’t need to. Because they experienced the same sensation of being thirsty after eating salty dishes.

For disciples, we can take a cue from our food. Just as our brains create a desire for water, our lives should create a desire in people for the living water of Jesus.

Does your life make people thirsty for Jesus?

The Salt of the Earth Improves Taste

The word translated as “has lost its taste” is moraino. In Greek, this literally means “cause to become nonsense” or “make foolish.”

In this sense, disciples are to act in a way that helps people understand and apply the gospel.

Just like a sharp palette identifies particular flavors in a meal, Christians should help people make sense of the gospel’s flavor. This means every situation should be viewed through a gospel-centered lens.

Does your life add grace and enrich the understanding of the gospel in peoples’ lives?

The Salt of the Earth Preserves and Protects

Finally, salt is a preservative.

By dehydrating food, it preserves it from spoiling.

An article in the Scientific American explains even more effects of salt:

“…these processes not only prevent spoilage of foods, but more importantly serve to inhibit or prevent growth of food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella or Clostridium botulinum when properly applied.

Salt both preserves and protects.

We doe this by ensuring our doctrine remains undefiled and undiluted. We don’t gather teachers who tell us what we want to hear.

Instead, we crave the truth from God’s Word itself. We commit to it. And are changed by it.

The true gospel saves us eternally and in this life.

Does your life participate in God’s preserving and protecting work through the gospel?

Let your yes be yes

Posted: September 18, 2017 in Thoughts on God

It’s happening.

Gray hair is sprinkling into my temples.

As we all do, I’m getting older. But in today’s verse, Jesus uses the inevitable aging process to show us something. Something key about the character of a disciple.

How many times have you said something like, “I swear to God it’s true…” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us simply: let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.

And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply “Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Matthew 5:36–37

So what’s going on here?

3 Ways Jesus Calls Us Higher

First, Jesus takes our word to another level. Because he shows us our commitment to doing what we say is a direct window into who we really are. It’s a mirror for our integrity.

Our commitment to doing what we say is a direct window into who we really are.
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Second, Jesus reminds us we only have power over our actions—not over anything greater we would swear by. That is why disciples are not to evoke a “higher power” to help people trust they’ll make good on their commitments.

Matthew Henry said we should live with “such a constant regard to truth as would render oaths unnecessary.”

Third, swearing by greater powers comes from the “evil one.” Remember Jesus’s description of the Devil in John 8:44? He said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Notice that lying, or breaking oaths, is part of his nature. When he speaks, he cannot be trusted.

But as disciples, we embody Jesus’s character. And he is named “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).

Let Your Yes Mean Yes

So our questions today are:

  1. Why do you make promises by appealing to a higher authority?
  2. Jesus shows us a simple way of being true. How would fully committing to your yeses and no’s make your life look different?
  3. Do you let your yes mean yes?
  4. When was the last time you broke your word? Seek forgiveness from this person and make it right. Tell them you’re doing so because Jesus shows us a higher way.

How to grow your spiritual life

Posted: September 13, 2017 in Thoughts on God

I’ve always thought about today’s passage in an external sense, rather than about the spiritual life. After all, that’s how it presents itself.

The lazy person reaps ruin while the diligent can expect a healthy harvest.

Simple. Makes sense. It’s a good challenge to keep me working hard and ensure I don’t let myself slack off.

But what if we consider this sowing-and-reaping principle in terms of our spiritual life? Specifically in our relationship with God.

Read today’s devotional verse:

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

Proverbs 24:30–34 ESV

We might not all live in castles or own vineyards, but we do all have the most valuable possession in the world: a human heart, soul, and spiritual life that needs tending.

Which scene resembles your inner quality of life in the following facets:

  1. Your spiritual life and relationship with the Lord,
  2. and your relationship with yourself?

If you’re like me, it’s probably a mix of the two.

Tending To Your Spiritual Life

There are places in my relationship with the Lord I can honestly say are well-cultivated.

For me, being in the Bible and in prayer are two places I’ve experienced incredible life. I have also put myself on the line in order to be obedient to his direction—even though it’s been scary and uncomfortable.

It’s a mainstay of my personal relationship with Jesus.

I may not have a heart populated by colonnades and cascading fountains, but there is life there for both myself and for others.

But if I dig deeper:

  • What about pride and my desire for recognition and praise?
  • What about envy?
  • What about my greed?
  • What about mean-spiritedness and incessant judgment of other people based on appearances?
  • What about how I deal with anger?
  • And the list goes on…

You see, the further I look past the well-tended fixtures of my inner life, I notice neglected places and crumbling walls.

I see nettles intruding on flower beds, choking the life out of what is good.

Tending To Your Personal Inner Life

The same goes for my relationship with myself.

  • Do I hold myself accountable for my attitudes?
  • Do I deal with anger before it blossoms into resentment?
  • Am I the same man in private as I am in public?
  • Am I cultivating habits that, while not comfortable, will produce life?
  • And again, the list goes on…

I encourage you to survey your spiritual life in the same way. Find both areas that are flourishing and those that are crumbling.

How can you be diligent to tend to both? How will you increase fruitful areas while tilling up the weed-infested ones and starting over?

For me, it all starts with a willingness to see reality. So, are you willing to see the real problems that exist in your heart? Are you willing to admit that there are cycles of trouble in your life that don’t stem from everyone else’s actions, but are caused by your own attitudes and dispositions?

Here’s the deal. Until you own the entirety your inner life—the fruit trees and the weeds—you’ll never have the power or clarity to nurture it to its full potential.

So, if you find yourself in a spiritual draught, be diligent in cultivating the places where life can be found.

We can nurture wonderful landscapes within our hearts and minds—but we must do so on purpose. The question today is, are you?

Jesus, teach us to pray

Posted: September 12, 2017 in Thoughts on God

Jesus, as God was prayed to, yet as a man he prayed. In today’s verse, the disciples ask him how:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

Luke 11:1 ESV

In fact Luke’s gospel displays this time and again, for instance:

  • at his baptism he was praying (Luke 3:21),
  • he withdrew into a desolate place to pray (Luke 5:16),
  • he went to a mountain and prayed the night through (Luke 6:12),
  • again he prayed alone (Luke 9:18),
  • and upon another mountain journey he prayed and was transfigured (Luke 9:28, 29).

Like David, Jesus gave himself to prayer (Psalm 109:4).

So it makes sense for one of his disciples to ask: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

With Jesus, the man who is God, standing before him the man didn’t ask, “Lord, teach us to work miracles,” or, “Jesus, teach us to preach with authority!”

These are great things. But they’re not the primary markers of men and women who know God.

Here we can learn the true place of prayer. It’s the place from which every part of Christian living and ministry should flow.

Jesus’ intimacy with the Father is seen especially when he said he “spoke just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28). He and the Father are still one (John 10:30), yet Jesus still thought prayer a noble use of a night.

Through this the disciples understood that prayer was more than an act of religion, but the very thing from which God empowers men to work his will.

Do you esteem prayer as you should, or is it just another thing to be checked from your daily “to do” list?

Blind deaf and dmb

Posted: September 1, 2017 in Thoughts on God

No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” (Isaiah 44:19 ESV)

The absurdity of idolatry is made plain from God’s vantage point.

Our foolishness in believing that somehow one side of a log could be holy, and the other side common, is staggering! Idols, though they may not hold the same form, often find their way into our homes and fit easily and comfortably into every culture before and since Isaiah’s. An inspired Psalmist wisely observed:

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat. (Psalm 115:4-7 ESV)

Take a step back from your life for a moment, and view it from this vantage point. Do we really want to worship a twenty-five year old who can throw a ball well, or a fighter who can take a punch?

Would you experience heavenly perfection if you looked like the model on the cover of a magazine? Each of us needs to take a moment in the Bible, and appreciate the unique vantage point of God’s perspective that Scripture affords us.

When we do, we see that these idols are nothing but vapor compared to our God who is the true rock in our life (Isaiah 44:8).

Are there idols in your life you need to get rid of?