Quack Attack

Quack Attack

By Pat Knight

From the shoreline, we witnessed the erratic, audacious activity of three mallard ducks involved in a physical scuffle. They were aggressively flapping into each other, first in the water, then in the air. There must have been a distinct reason for the unusual behavior among a group of birds that is normally a peaceable species.

God observes similar harassing behavior, as Christians interact during disagreement, criticism, or quarreling. At such times it is difficult to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian conduct. What a shame! “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). 

We are commanded to love one another. “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever!” (1 Peter 4:8, 10-11, NLT). Love and serve with the capabilities God provides; with all the strength He infuses to glorify His name and to encourage others.

Occasionally heard are comments such as, “I would never have guessed he is a Christian from the way he acts at work.” Or, “she is so involved in gossiping and backbiting, how can she claim to be a believer?” God is unhappy with the person and abhors such behavior. Incriminating words, off-color jokes, or unkind remarks place God’s stamp of disapproval on a Christian’s testimony.

Because God commands us to love one another and to be peacemakers, extending kindness and patience in all circumstances, how can we possibly rationalize inappropriate words? “We speak as those approved by God, who are to be entrusted with His Gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Sanctified by Jesus, we are set apart for holy purposes, taking our directions solely from God. He is the one who specifies conduct and speech. We are instructed to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NLT). 

We are quick to dismiss bad language as a slip of the tongue. God expects us to be personally responsible for every word we utter. Do your words uplift or degrade?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Our words carry the ability to slice through a person, bringing him to his knees, and crippling his spirit. Positive, loving speech enhances our Christian testimony. Cruel words cast doubt on our relationship with Christ.

There are times when Christians are guilty of spiritual cannibalism. We have all seen it happen: cutting words disfigure and disable, ingesting God’s children alive. We witness jealousy, egotistical comments, and hurtful, tactless responses. Irascible words produce deep wounds that seldom heal.

Like large mammals who hunt their prey, people also stalk the unsuspecting with criticism and gossip. As the animal moves in for a quick, decisive kill, we characteristically destroy with anger, untruths, slander, judgment, or accusations, until we have devoured one of God’s beloved creatures. We claim to be more advanced intellectually than the animal world, but such actions prove us wrong. If we’ve circulated in Christian circles very long, we’ve observed variations of this scenario, completely contrary to God’s teachings to love and treat others as we want to be treated.

Does it provide self-satisfaction to watch a fellow Christian squirm and suffer? If we notice a person physically in harm’s way, we likely intervene to prevent injury or to save a life. So, why do we hesitate to get involved when emotional or spiritual health are threatened? We are specifically commanded, “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8).

At the time the Israelites escaped their Egyptian slave masters and were traveling toward the Promised Land, Miriam questioned Moses’ authority as their leader, expressing jealousy of her brother’s assignment as God’s prophet. She challenged God’s decision by exposing and criticizing Moses’ marriage to a foreign-born woman, attempting to undermine his authority. Miriam demanded to know why God had spoken solely through Moses and not through her or her other brother, Aaron.

God answered Miriam by confirming that He chooses His prophets and that Moses was greater than all the others (Numbers 12:4-9). As severe judgment for Miriam’s rebellion, God inflicted her with leprosy. Her skin instantly turned white as snow. Her gracious, forgiving brother, Moses, prayed for her healing. God promised to heal Miriam, but first required that she remain quarantined outside the camp alone for seven days, holding up the journey for all the people until her punishment was fulfilled. She was designated an outcast until she could resume contact with the rest of the community.

Learning from Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion, it is necessary that we trust God to choose His appropriate followers for specific ministries. He lavishes each believer with distinct spiritual gifts. If we tirelessly use our own gifts to serve Jesus, we will have neither time nor energy to monitor how others are occupied with their individual assignment from God. 

Steaming jealousy, escalating anger, and a contorted sense of self-worth apparently motivated Miriam. She was not different from people today; only the circumstances vary. God was displeased with her. “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them” (Numbers 12:9). When our Lord views similar tendencies in His children today, He displays equal displeasure and disciplines His own. Jealousy is a trait that insidiously consumes our emotions. Priorities change. Apathy replaces faith. Destruction of spiritual relationships is inevitable. Any prolonged jealousy leaves victims in its path. A good dose of repentance, strengthened with personal, fervent prayers for forgiveness is the antidote God honors.

Deception erodes trust. Where there is no trust, there arises doubt and suspicion. Then, relations with God and people degenerate; we have sinned against both. We need not look far to find examples of the damage lying and deceit cause in the world around us. Betrayal among friends is often irreversible, unresponsive to human efforts of repair. “But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b). Our heavenly Father is able to reinstate our broken relationships just as he did for Miriam and Moses. Jesus taught, “‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled; and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:14b). 

The flailing ducks couldn’t resist pecking at one another until feathers flew. God urges us to employ Jesus’ attribute of a gentle spirit. “No one should seek his own good but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Leave squawking and aggression to the avian species. 

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

Seven Encouraging Reasons to Pray

By Colin Smith

It may be in a hospital or at some other moment of crisis, but at some time most people feel that they want to pray. That is true of thousands and millions of people who would never darken the door of a church.

Here is something that the church has to offer. Christian people have something that at some point, most people in our community and in our country will feel that they need—to pray. Christians know how to pray, or at least we should.

But do we know why we pray? Here are seven reasons we pray which are meant to encourage you in your pursuit of Jesus Christ.

1. Pray, because Jesus is our great high priest.

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… (Hebrews 4:14)

If I have to engage in an important conversation, I am often grateful to have someone else with me. Is there someone who can come with me who knows the person I will be meeting better than I do?

Remember this is how Moses felt when God sent him to speak to Pharaoh. God sent Aaron with him. Aaron was the High Priest. Who will go with us when we go into the throne room, not of Pharaoh, but of Almighty God?

Hebrews says “we have a great high priest…” Think about this: Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for us. When you pray, you ascend by faith into heavenly places, where Christ is.

Christ is next to the Father, and when you pray, you are next to Christ. He is there for you, and when you speak, he is there with you! He is there, endorsing what you’re saying, placing his name under what you’re asking.

You can come to the Father with Jesus beside you. He is there to support you in your prayer, to back you up in what you are saying, to agree with your prayer because it has already been his own.

2. Pray, because Jesus knows what life is like. 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) 

You can’t bring anything to Jesus that will shock him. Nothing that you face is surprising to Jesus. You don’t need to hide anything from him. Think about the humanity of Jesus: He worked in a shop. He grieved. He saw darkness unleashed like no one else ever has. 

3. Pray, because God invites us to his throne of grace. 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace. . . (Hebrews 4:16) 

Bunyan says, “God has more than one throne…” The throne of grace is very different from the throne of judgment. God invites you to come to the throne of grace! How often would you want to pray, if you knew you were coming before the throne of judgment? 

Read the rest here.

Rekindling Your Love for Christ

Thank you all for bearing with me during my short hiatus. I am feeling a lot better now and will share more about that in a future post. Today I’m sharing an excellent post from John MacArthur’s Grace to You blog.

Rekindling Your Love for Christ

by John MacArthur

As we begin this new year, before we get back into our study of the gospel of Luke, which we will commence again next Sunday, along with our series on doctrine next Sunday night, I want to talk to you just personally and pastorally a little bit. Last Sunday I spoke on 1 Corinthians chapter 10, on the danger of spiritual privilege, from the verse, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” How that those who are singularly blessed can become smug about that blessing and thinking they’re firm in their stand can be headed for a serious collapse. I want to follow up on that same perspective today, because I feel like part of the ministry that I must discharge before the Lord, and you, is a ministry of warning about danger.

Our church is not in particular danger from some dominating iniquity. It is not in particular danger from some infiltrating heresy. It is not in danger from some loss of resources financially or human. Everything you can see on the surface looks to be good. And we would have every reason to think that we stand, and still be on the brink of a fall. And following that idea up a little bit, we have to go to the real core of what it means to be a Christian. And I, from my perspective, believe that the church in our day is completely losing this simple perspective. I think the Christian life is essentially a simple thing to understand. It is a life of loving Jesus Christ. I know that sounds probably pretty basic, and indeed it is, but just that simple statement has been lost to us.

The Christian life is best defined as an ongoing relationship of love between the believer and Christ. We don’t need to talk about His love for us. That’s fixed. The issue is our love for Christ. Evangelical Christianity has all but lost this perspective on the Christian life. Most people have the idea that the Christian life is about how much God loves me and wants to fulfill my dreams and my desires and my ambitions and my goals and my objectives. And what He wants to do is make something wonderful out of me and life me up and elevate me and fulfill all the hopes of my heart. It’s more about God loving me so much that He wants to do all of this than it is about me loving Him.

But in reality, the Christian life is about loving Christ. It is about loving Him singularly. It is about loving Him totally. It is about loving Him sacrificially. It is about loving Him obediently. It is about loving Him worshipfully. It is about loving Him in terms of service. It really is about loving Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s that you now commit your life to loving Him.

Now if you understand the Old Testament, the great commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is the sum of all that God requires, and your neighbor as yourself. But it starts with loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, which is just a way of saying loving God comprehensively, totally, completely. Now if that’s the sum of the Law, then that has to be the sum of the relationship. That can’t be altered when it comes to being a Christian. It is still the purpose of God that we would love the Lord Jesus Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Being a Christian is about loving Christ so much that you want to know Him, so much that you want to exalt Him, so much that you want to please Him, so much that you want to serve Him, so much that you want to be with Him, so much that you want to tell others about Him. It’s about this overwhelming, consuming affection for Christ. This is at the core of what it means to be a Christian.

And so, the real question to ask people when you talk about their spiritual growth or their spiritual condition or where they are in terms of their life is, how much do you love Jesus Christ? How much do you love Christ? Are you growing in your love for Christ? Do you love Him more now than you have in the past? Do you desire Him more now than you did in the past? 

Read the rest here.

If Today Was Your Last Day

Sharing today from Unlocking the Bible.

If Today Was Your Last Day

By Benjamin Vrbicek

We’ve all heard some version of the question, “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do?” The question is designed to get us thinking about what truly matters and what doesn’t.

There is a helpfulness to this question, I suppose. I certainly don’t want to spend my last day before seeing Jesus perfecting my yo-yo technique or binge-watching Dora the Explorer.

But to be frank, I find the “last day” question paralyzing. It’s overwhelming to consider all the things that could possibly be done. How does one decide what’s the most effective, impactful, God-honoring thing to do when your toes are on the precipice of eternity? How could I know if it’s better to sneak into North Korea—should it even be possible—and preach the gospel, or to track down all my unsaved friends and family so I can preach the gospel to them? Maybe I should also drain my life savings so I can give it away—but who should I give it to?

I have no idea how to answer these questions. Besides, thinking about the most effective thing to do on your last day seems to me like the silly meme that gets shared online: “Jesus is coming; look busy.”

Does being prepared for the second coming of Christ merely involve some extraordinary acts of obedience moments before he returns?

According to Jesus, it doesn’t.

What Does It Mean to Be Ready for Jesus’ Return?

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently charges his followers to stay ready for his return. One such place is Luke 12:35-48. Through a couple short parables about different kinds of servants, Jesus illustrates for his disciples what it means to be ready.

Stay Dressed for Action

In this passage—contra the logic of the “last day” question—being prepared for Jesus’ return means doing the kinds of things appropriate for your context, however ordinary and mundane they might seem. If you’re a teacher, be found grading midterms to the glory of God. If you’re a Christian who works in a factory, be found working until the whistle blows.

Jesus commands, “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning” (v. 35). The literal rendering of the phrase “stay dressed for action” is, “let your loins stay girded.” Back in the day, to have your loins girded meant that a man was ready to work because he had pulled his long, flowing robe around to the front and tied it tight so that it wouldn’t interfere with action.

Read the rest here.

John Calvin: Who He Is, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Sharing today from Gospel Relevance.

John Calvin: Who He Is, What He Did, and Why He Matters

By 

John Calvin is associated with someone’s death. He wrote one of the most influential Christian theological books of all time. Privately, he was shy and awkward. In public, he moved around with stunning confidence. He was impatient and bashful, yet pastoral and caring. We have never seen — and probably will never see — anyone like him.

Who is John Calvin, you ask? I have intentionally studied Calvin’s life over the years. This post is somewhat of a brief biography of his life. Let’s start with the early years.

Early Life

First thing’s first: his name is not John Calvin. Well, at least not at birth. He was born as “Jean Cauvin.” We don’t know when and why Calvin changed his name, but we know that, as Bruce Gordon tells us, “Name changing was a commonplace among humanists of the sixteenth century.”

Calvin was born on July 10th, 1509 in Noyon, France. He was the first of four children. His mother died when he was a child. Calvin had brothers named Antoine and Charles, and a half-sister named Marie. His father, Gerard Cauvin, was over 50 when Calvin was born, and he eventually died of testicular cancer but was an influence in Calvin’s life. He (Calvin’s dad) remarried after his first wife died, although little is known about either one. While Calvin did not write much about his personal life, he respected his father.

John Calvin’s intellectual abilities were quickly noticed by his father and others. Calvin was on track to study theology and move forward into a position within the church. However, in 1526, his dad directed him to abandon his theological studies and to begin studying to become a lawyer. And he did, studying in Orleans and Bourges until 1531. His studies in law would later help him as a thinker and writer. However, John Calvin did not become a lawyer, but a pastor, and that was soon after his conversion.

Calvin’s Conversion

Calvin was eventually converted to Christ between ages 20-24. Historians and theologians do not agree upon the date and method of conversion. While Calvin did not write much about himself (unlike today, it was uncommon to speak about one’s personal life back then) the closest thing we have to an autobiography of his life is his commentary on the Psalms, in which he briefly mentions part of his conversion:

“When I was as yet a very little boy, my father had destined me for the study of theology. But afterwards, when he considered that the legal profession commonly raised those who followed it to wealth, this prospect induced him suddenly to change his purpose . . . but God, by the sweet guidance of his providence, at length gave a different direction to my course . . . God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame . . .”

He continues, “Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein . . . In short, whilst my one great object was to live in seclusion without being known, God so led me about through different turnings and changes, that he never permitted me to rest in any place, until, in spite of my natural disposition, he brought me forth to public notice.”

Read the rest here.