Identity

Two Ways (1 John 2:15-17)

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As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.

Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?

To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.

‘Kosmos’ can mean;

  1. All that is created and sustained by God, or 
  2. All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or 
  3. The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)

John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).  

In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.

But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;

‘For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.’ 

John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;

  1. The desires of the flesh.  Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
  2. The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
  3. Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)

John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.

We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.

Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.

So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)

So what is our relationship with the world to be?  

We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).  

However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).

For consideration:

  1. Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
  2. ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
  3. Are you truly living with an eternal perspective?  How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?

Discipleship

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(2 Timothy 1:13-18 & 2 Timothy 2:1-3)

In the first part of Timothy we visited a few ideas: 

  • godly mentorship (discipleship), 
  • being unashamed to share the gospel, and 
  • having an eternal perspective in times of suffering.

In today’s devotional I want to continue with focusing on discipleship and the need thereof. 2 Timothy 13-14 and 2 Timothy 1-2 speaks concerning this, read it again.

Jesus set out on his mission to change the world by choosing disciples, this is one of the first things he does, and in what is recorded as some of the last things said to his disciples, he encourages them to do the same.

Matthew 28:18:  ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’

Just like Jesus discipled the twelve to go on and change the world (read disciple others), so too Paul was discipling Timothy. He encouraged Timothy to imitate him as he imitated Christ and in 2 Timothy 2, he gives the structure we ought to follow in discipleship of others.

2 Timothy 2:2: ‘and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.’

Paul teaches Timothy, who in his own time, teaches faithful men and they then go and teach others. It always baffles me that Jesus could change the world through only twelve people. They were not extremely smart, nor extremely holy, they were not especially good with words, no; they were ordinary people just like you and me. Imagine what He could do through us if we are willing to disciple and be discipled!

One of the beautiful examples of discipleship was described in 1 Timothy, Paul honours the role of Timothy’s grandmother and mother in shaping the faith he now possesses. Two godly women not only raising their children, but actively discipling them. That is ultimately the goal of parenting: discipling. 

We have all received good deposits from other people in our lives; our faith would be worse off if it had not been for those people who prayed for us, encouraged us and loved on us. It is our responsibility to not only receive these ‘good deposits’, but also to guard the deposits entrusted to us in order to deposit it to others.

Matthew 28:18: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.’

Questions:

  • Are we being actively discipled and are we actively discipling others like Paul teaches?
  • Are we teachable enough to receive other people’s deposits?
  • Are we only raising our children or are we also discipling them?
  • Who do you look up to in the faith, that you could ask to walk this road with you on a more intimate basis?

Leadership Note:

There are so much godly wisdom in our church communities today, so many lived experiences and so many testimonies that could be benefited from. God has placed people in our lives so we can share our ‘good deposits’ and receive the ‘good deposits’ from others. In this way the church will be ever growing into the image of God. Now, go therefore and make disciples!

God’s Delight (Psalm 18:1-19)

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‘I love You, O LORD, my strength’ (vs1)

What a relief, what joy to be able to declare that God is our strength! What a relief to not have to try to be strong, to not have to seek to hold it all together. Yahweh is our strength, and for that, we love Him (vs1)

Yahweh is our strength in that He is our rock, our strong, immovable foundation, Yahweh is our fortress the strong tower into which we can run and find refuge in times of danger. Yahweh is also a shield defending us from the attacks of the enemy (vs2).

Yahweh is my strength because He is the one I can call on and call out to for help (vs3) when desperate situations or challenges greater than my strength present themselves (vs4-5).

Yahweh is my strength because when I cry to Him, He hears and recognises my voice from His holy temple (vs6). And so my cries are not in vain.

Yahweh rips open the heavens to respond to my cries for help; He rides the wind and thunders on my behalf (vs7-19)!

And why does Yahweh act in such a way?

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (vs19)

What astounding words. That the God of angel armies, the LORD most high, the Alpha and Omega delights in me! God takes pleasure in me in us.

I know myself. I know my limitations, my failings, my weakness and my sin, and yet You delight in me. Psalm 18:19 helps us to understand Hebrews 12:2 which explains the motivation in Jesus’ heart as He looked upon the cross;

Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Psalm 18 depicts Jahweh his strength saving him from his temporal earthly enemies. But the great enemy and the greater eternal salvation for you and for me who have believed in Jesus is that we are saved eternally from our enemies of sin, shame, satan & death because of Jesus.

Why did Jahweh do this? Because He delighted in me, in us. Scripture is clear that it was God’s love for us that caused the Father to send the Son (John 3:16) so that He could have the joy of having us in heaven with Him forever and ever (Revelation 21:3).

LORD, thank you for choosing to love me, despite me, for loving me enough to send Jesus to make a way to cleanse me from my sin so that I would be in close relationship with you forever.

And if You did this massive thing in saving me, I am sure that there is nothing in this life, nothing on this earth that you will not rescue me from (Romans 8:32).

‘I love You, O LORD, my strength!’ (Psalm 18:1)

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (Numbers 4)

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Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.

Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.

Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)

So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

What can I/we learn about God?

God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!

What can I/we learn about people or faith?

God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!

What can I learn about myself?

A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”

And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.

Unified in Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

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A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.

Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.

The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.

Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).

All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!

(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.

And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).

All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.

(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.

Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).

The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

What do you rejoice in? (Romans 5:1-5)

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What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?

In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.

I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!

What do you rejoice in?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.

1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God

May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.

Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.

More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).

When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.

Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.

2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)

This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.

3. We rejoice in our sufferings

Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.

We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;

1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!

We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.

It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!

4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.

We have so much to rejoice in!

Who are you? (James 1:1)

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Who-are-you“Who are you?” I met a church planter in Calgary last year who was planting a church into an area in the city, and his practice was to go to a particular local Starbucks Coffee every day and work there striking up conversations with anyone who frequented the same Starbucks.

His favourite question as he engaged people was to ask them; “So, who are you?” He told me how most people would begin to answer by saying what they did for a living.

But he would cut them short saying; “I didn’t ask you what you DO, I asked you WHO YOU ARE?” At which point many would look quizzically and reply; “Hmmm I’m not sure how to answer that question.” He would then proceed to ask them if they wanted to explore that together with him.

So, WHO ARE YOU? What’s your primary identity?
Our world is filled with people trying to answer that question with all sorts of things ranging from culture, language, family, achievements, careers…

James, the writer of this little book we are reading and meditating on for the next month, answered that question in the following way in James 1:1;

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings.” – James 1:1 (ESV)

What a way to introduce oneself! A servant or a slave of Jesus, as some translations say, this was James’ primary identity. Is this how you think of yourself? Is this what defines you more than any other thing?

Paul like James uses this phrase “slave of Jesus” to introduce himself to the Roman believers (Romans 1:1). And in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 we read of the reason in the heart of Paul as to why he, like James identifies himself in this way;

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

The Christ Follower is one for whom Jesus died, SO THAT they would ‘no longer live for themselves but for Him’ who died for them. When we believe in Jesus, we don’t add Jesus to the mix of all we do. No, when we put our faith in Jesus, He revolutionises our whole lives and transforms our identity!

When we put our faith in Jesus, we get a new identity; we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:16) whose purpose is now totally orientated around serving God, pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9). We are those who have been re-defined by our faith in Jesus; He is our new master, our Lord. We exist to serve His purposes on the planet with our one precious life He has given to us.

Spend a moment thinking about the question; “Who are you?” If you are a Christ Follower, I urge you to ask Jesus to help you see that being a “servant of Jesus” is your identity just like James and Paul and millions of others. And as that truth about your identity becomes clear it will lead you to another question which we can ask every day; “Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do for You today?”

As Jesus speaks to you, obey Him and watch as Jesus leads you into serving Him and others in remarkable ways, knowing that He is faithful and that He will reward those who live their lives in this way.