Posts by phil

Take Time to Give Thanks

Posted on Nov 26, 2015 in Encouragement | 0 comments

As Thanksgiving approaches, where are your thoughts? We may be focused on many different things—food, family, football, Friday deals—but what about our Father? As a society, we take the 4th Thursday in November off but seem to forget the cause; as Christians, we ought to lead the way in giving thanks to God! On November 1st, mysteriously, overnight, the distinctive oranges, yellows, and browns of the “fall” candy on the shelves of the local supermarket have been replaced with the telltale reds and greens, silver, and gold that signal the start of the Christmas shopping season. Santa and his elves, reindeer, sleighs, and snowmen are piping through the store’s sound system even though we’re still in short sleeves and the trees have yet to drop their leaves. Didn’t we skip something? Perhaps it’s understandable—after all, there’s no money to be made from marketing contentment, from being satisfied with what we already have. But the Bible tells believers—actually, commands us—“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:18). The world is trending in a certain direction—the apostle Paul, itemizing the characteristics of men in the last days of this age, includes “ungrateful” in the list (2 Tim. 3:2). As Christians, we are exhorted to stand against this trend: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). We don’t have to conform to the pattern of our thankless, griping, dissatisfied modern society. We can receive the biblical injunction to give thanks regardless of our situations. Perhaps our circumstances aren’t ideal, but with a little thought, a little strength of will, we can find something to be grateful for. *Watchman Nee writes: “You may be sick, but you are still alive. You may be poor, but you are not destitute. You may have coarse clothing, but you still have something to put on. Your house may be small, but you still have a place to lay your head. You should learn to seek for opportunities to thank God.” This Thanksgiving, you don’t have to seek for the opportunity—it’s here. Take it! Secular studies have linked gratefulness to a plethora of benefits—lower stress levels, better sleep, better mental and physical health, and even improved immune function. As believers, we shouldn’t need the help of modern science to discover what the Bible told us centuries ago: When we give our cares—accompanied by our thanks—to God in prayer, we are delivered from anxiety. Then the peace of God, which is beyond man’s understanding, stands guard over our hearts and thoughts (Phil. 4:6-7). What a blessing! *(The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, v. 18, p. 261. Watchman Nee spent the last twenty years of his life imprisoned for his faith in communist China. In a letter written about a month before he died, he wrote, “I maintain my joy, so please do not worry.” This indicates that he practiced what he preached, rejoicing in the Lord despite his situation (Phil. 4:4). He did not have the freedom to mention the Lord in his letters. On the day he died, he left a note with the following testimony: “Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in...

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Five More Reasons to Read the Bible

Posted on Oct 16, 2015 in Encouragement | 0 comments

God is inexhaustibly rich, and His word is an expression of who He is. That’s why, although we posted Five Reasons to Read the Bible earlier this semester, we’re continuing here with five more reasons to read the Bible. 6. For enlivening: Sometimes we may feel full of spiritual life and have no problem loving and seeking the Lord. Other times we find ourselves in spiritual doldrums, adrift and struggling to go on. When we’re in such down situations, we can turn to God’s word for a breath of spiritual life. Psalm 119:50 says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, / That Your word has revived me and given me life.” Second Corinthians 3:6 tells us that there are two ways in which we can take God’s word: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” We can come to the Bible as a book of precepts—rules and regulations—or we can approach it with an attitude of seeking after God. When we do the latter, we are enlivened: the Spirit gives life! 7. For washing: If you’re a believer, then you should know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin (1 John 1:7). But Ephesians 5:26 speaks of an additional washing, telling us that Christ is preparing the church as His bride by “cleansing her by the washing of the water in the word.” As we read the Bible, the water of life in the word works within us to cleanse away every defect in our fallen, natural life and transform us to Christ’s glorious image (see v. 27). 8. To discern spirit from soul: We have decisions to make all the time in our daily life, both big and small, and as Christians we have a sincere desire to follow Christ and do what He wants us to do. We may have the habit of bringing our decisions to the Lord in prayer—that’s excellent. But sometimes, even after praying, we’re still not clear whether we’re inclined a certain way out of self-interest or because that’s the direction the Lord is leading us. The word of God can help! Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 9. For equipping: It’s normal after receiving the Lord to have a desire to serve Him. Just as a tradesman wouldn’t head off to work without being properly equipped with the skills and tools of his trade, we shouldn’t think that we can serve God without knowing His word. God’s word prepares and equips us. Second Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (Actually, there are five reasons to read the Bible in these two verses…but maybe that’s a different blog post.) 10. For constitution: When we believe in the Lord Jesus, He comes into our spirit and regenerates it (gives it new birth) immediately (1 Pet. 1:3). And, at the Lord’s return, our body will be transfigured in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52). But in between these two events, the Lord works within us day by day (2 Cor. 4:16), little by little (Deut. 7:22), to transform us by His life (2 Cor. 3:18). As we contact the Lord through prayer and through His word day by day, we accumulate experiences of Christ, and these become our new makeup,...

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John: A Book of Conversations

Posted on Sep 24, 2015 in Encouragement | 3 comments

The Gospel of John is a book of conversations. When we think of Jesus’s earthly ministry, we may immediately think of the signs that He performed. But John’s record is focused more on what Jesus said than on what He did. After all, John begins his Gospel by telling us that the Lord is the Word (1:1). The eternal God, the creator of the universe, was incarnated to be a man in the flesh (1:14). What would He do as a man? He talked to people! Some people initiated conversations with Him (4:46-47); others Jesus sought out (5:6; 9:35). He spoke to people one on one (3:1-2; 4:7); He spoke to crowds (6:24-25). Sometimes He conversed privately (3:1-2); other times He taught or cried out in the temple (7:37; 8:2). And if you take a look at His miraculous deeds, you’ll see that nearly all of them were accomplished simply by…speaking (4:50; 5:8; 11:43)! Why is this important? These days, we hang on the words of the famous. People follow breathlessly when their favorite singer or athlete tweets their thoughts on the news of the day. Such trivialities pale in comparison to the record John left—a record of the words spoken by God Himself! Not only so, the Gospel of John shows us that it matters how we respond to God’s word. Some heard Jesus’ words and believed (4:42; 4:50; 6:69; 9:38); others heard His words and sought to kill Him (5:16-18; 8:37; 10:31). Some responded by speaking good news to others (4:28-29), and some shrank from speaking for fear of persecution (12:42-43). How can we  respond to God’s word? Let’s look at a few ways we can respond to the Lord’s speaking, as seen in the Gospel of John. When you come to the Bible, have an attitude of coming to the Lord. Jesus told the leaders among the Jews—devout men, ones familiar with the Scriptures—that there was a problem with their Bible reading. “You search the scriptures,” He told them, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (5:39-40). Our coming to the Word should be our coming to the Lord. He is the Word! Believe the Lord’s word. We should mix the Lord’s word with our faith; then it will benefit us (4:41-42; 4:50; Heb. 4:2). Interact with the Lord Himself, even if what you are reading is hard to receive. Many who heard the Jesus’s speaking in John 6 were stumbled, saying “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (v. 60). Many stopped following Him that day (v. 66). When Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they also wanted to go away, Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). It is doubtful that Peter understood the Lord’s speaking at that time, but he knew he needed to stick with Jesus! Pass on the good news! When she realized that Jesus was the Christ, the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 left her water jar at the well and went into the city to spread the news. Her testimony was, “Come, see a man who told me all that I have done. Is this not the Christ?” (4:29). Initially the townspeople came to Jesus because of the woman’s testimony; after two more days, they told her: “It is no longer because of your speaking that we believe, for we ourselves have heard and know that this One is truly the...

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Changing Death into Life

Posted on Sep 10, 2015 in Encouragement | 1 comment

At the beginning of John chapter 2, Jesus attends a wedding with His mother and His disciples. During the celebration, the wine runs out, and Mary calls on Jesus to do something about it. He instructs the servants to fill six stone jars with water, and when they draw some of the water out, it has miraculously changed into wine. Perhaps you’re familiar with this story. But have you ever noticed that the only witnesses of this miracle were the servants and the twelve disciples? Neither the master of the feast nor the bridegroom had any idea where the new and better wine had come from. Another curious thing is that none of the other gospels records this incident. Why does John include it in his gospel? It’s not just a miracle, it’s a sign. If you read John 2:11 in the King James Version, you’ll see, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee….” In the Greek, however, as you’ll find in many other translations, the word is not miracles, but signs. That’s not to say that changing water into wine isn’t a miracle; it most certainly is. The point is that a sign has further meaning; it has significance beyond what appears on the surface. As an illustration, consider an April evening in 1775, when two lanterns appeared in a window of the Old North Church in Boston. They were not merely lights; they were a sign (“One if by land, two if by sea…”) warning colonial militiamen that British troops were heading toward them in boats. Having spent more than three years with Jesus, John had no shortage of anecdotes to relate. John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31; emphasis added). According to these verses, not only was John selective in what he wrote, he deliberately chose signs that served his purpose in writing—that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ and consequently receive Him as the eternal life. It doesn’t matter that only a few people knew about it or that it isn’t recorded in the other gospels. John selected it because it’s a sign that illustrates an important principle. If it’s a sign, what does it mean? The changing of the water into wine signifies the changing of death into life. Since this is “the first of his signs” (John 2:11), it sets the principle for everything that follows. Jesus (who as we saw in the previous post, is life) is the One who changes death into life! Let’s reconsider John 2:1-11 as a sign, an allegory (with thanks to the footnotes in the New Testament Recovery Version): The wedding was on “the third day” (v. 1). The third day is the day of resurrection! (See Matthew 16:21; Acts 10:40; and 1 Corinthians 15:4.) A wedding feast “signifies the pleasure and enjoyment of human life”; wine is a symbol for life. That the wine “gave out” (v. 3) shows that human life runs out. The six stone jars (v. 6) represent man, who was created on the sixth day. The water that filled the jars (v. 7) signifies death (as it also does in Genesis 1:2, Exodus 14:21, and other places). Thus, when John recorded the sign of turning water (death) into wine (life) as the first of the signs performed by Jesus, he was setting the principle by...

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John: The Gospel of Life

Posted on Sep 2, 2015 in Encouragement | 0 comments

Most Christians and even many unbelievers are aware that the four Gospels at the beginning of the New Testament are biographical sketches of the life of Jesus Christ. These four books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—have a fundamental similarity; they are all concerned with the life story of the same man. But why tell the same story four times? Each of the Gospels presents Jesus Christ in a particular way: Matthew, which repeatedly mentions “the kingdom of the heavens” (thirty-two times, to be exact), reveals that Jesus is the King, the One anointed by God to bring the kingdom of the heavens to the earth. Accordingly, Matthew opens with a detailed genealogical record (Matt. 1:1-17) that traces Christ’s lineage from the kingly line of David. Mark’s record shows us that Jesus came as a slave to serve fallen man (Mark 10:45); hence, Mark’s gospel has no genealogy, since the heritage of a slave is unimportant. Luke, seeking to show us that Jesus is a genuine and perfect man, highlights His human virtues and presents His ancestry all the way back to Adam, the first man (Luke 3:23-38). John demonstrates that Jesus is the Son of God, even God Himself, becoming a man in the flesh so that man may receive the life of God (John 1:1, 12-14). Since we are beginning the semester by reading the Gospel of John, let’s consider John’s emphasis in more detail. The Word, who is God, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus embodied the life of God. John 1:4 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Greek word for life in this verse is zoe, which indicates not the physical human life (in Greek, bios) or the life of the soul (in Greek, psuche), but the eternal, divine life. Jesus Himself is life. Not only was there life in Jesus as the incarnated God; He Himself is life. In John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and in John 14:6 He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus came that we may have the life of God. Jesus is the divine life, but even more, He was incarnated that we might have this life as well. In John 10:10 He said, “I have come that they may have life [zoe] and may have it abundantly.” The Gospel of John reveals Christ’s death as a life-releasing death. Christ shed His blood for us on the cross that we might be redeemed by God and forgiven of our sins. However, the Gospel of John is unique in showing us not only the redemptive aspect of Christ’s death, but also its life-imparting aspect. In John 12:24 Jesus spoke of His death in a way that makes no reference to sin; rather, it is an analogy that concerns the imparting of the divine life into man. Jesus said, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Here He compared Himself to a seed; if a seed is never planted (that is, never “falls into the ground and dies”) it remains a single seed. However, if it is planted in death, it will bring forth many grains in resurrection (“if it dies, it bears much fruit”). In the account of Christ’s death on the cross,...

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