Quiet Time Blogs

Image may contain: Michael Bell, smiling    The following are notes made during my quiet times with God.  Too often we come to God in prayer merely to talk but not to listen. Lately, I've been doing more listening than talking.  I've been allowing God to speak to me far more than I've addressed Him.
    From whence do these quiet time meditations come?  How are the texts picked out?  Why does there seem to be no systematic presentation?  If God speaks, it is worth writing down.  And if I receive a rhema word from God, it is worth sharing as well.  Too often preachers fall into the trap of going to the Bible to find a sermon.  That is not my purpose here - though some seed thoughts for a sermon might be found.  This is God's word specific to my personal spiritual pilgrimage. 
Answers:
1.)  The Scriptures sometimes come from a passage I read as I search the Scriptures given my acquaintance with where subjects are found.
2.) The Scriptures sometimes come from a passage that just pops into my head.  I may recall where I read it.  I may have to look it up with study tools that I have available.  I don't think that God brings what may seem at the time as "off the wall" Bible verses to mind for nothing.  Bible verses don't pop into one's thoughts by coincidence.  So I meditate on them to see what God is telling me.
3.) The Scriptures sometimes are cited because God gives a particular subject to mind that He wishes me to explore more thoroughly.  At times as I study & write impressions from those passages I'm sure that my thoughts are shaped somewhat by far greater men I've read.  I may not always cite them as sources or remember who may have originally said a particular profound utterance.  Nevertheless, statements from people like C. S. Lewis, C. H. Spurgeon, R. C. Sproul, D. A. Carson, John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, John Calvin, John Piper, Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, & others will surely be paraphrased or even quoted inadvertently.  I've rarely if ever had an original thought. 
4.) The purpose of these quiet time postings is not to write devotional literature.  I seldom embellish my quiet time thoughts with stories or quotes unless God brings them to mind in my conversation with Him.  I also do not post many of my quiet times because they are too deeply personal for public consumption.

    If you are a pastor, you might actually find a seed for a sermon or two amongst my quiet time postings but they aren't shared for that purpose.  If they edify you and give you fodder for a message, I would love to hear how you used it.  Since this is a blog, the quiet times are in reverse order.  If I'm impressed by God to explore a subject, you may wish to reverse the order of your use of these quiet times to better understand how the quiet times regarding that subject are linked together.
 
 
    If God ever uses my quiet time meditations to edify you in your walk with the Lord I'm gratified.  Let me encourage you to listen to God twice as much as you talk to Him.  He did after all give us two ears & but one mouth.  Soli Deo Gloria.
 

The Protection of Zeal in Ministry

posted Nov 15, 2018, 11:12 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Nov 15, 2018, 12:37 PM ]

Now who is there to harm you if you are
zealous for what is good?  14 But even if you
should suffer for righteousness’ sake,  you
will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be
troubled,  16  having a good conscience, so that,
when you are slandered, those who revile your
good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good,  if
that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
- 1 Peter 3:13, 14, 16, 17 [ESV]

           

When I read the question Peter poses in the first verse of my consideration today, my personal response is an exclamation: “What?  I live in a culture where all manner of evil is directed against those who hold to Christian moral precepts, and ministries that seek to reach out to a broken world full of people who have bought in to demonic lies regarding gender-confusion and the slaughter of the unborn.”  Further, even in ecclesiastical circles I have seen pastors run off from churches for taking a stand against sin within the fellowship that would not have been tolerated just a few generations ago.  My retort to Simon Peter would be: “Don’t you mean who is not there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”

Context is critical and as I look back at Peter’s quotation of Psalm 34:12-16 in verse 14,  I see that there David is giving thanks to God for delivering him from the hand of King Saul.  David, a man after God’s own heart, was fleeing from Saul precisely because he was “zealous for what is good.”  So Peter was not teaching that a moral life is a prophylactic against persecution.  He is however, teaching that a righteous life will not face persecution that leads to ultimate defeat on the spiritual battlefield.  This is obvious by his concession: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” 

Though I may not see it, God has a purpose for my persecution.  It is to test my faith – not to determine if it is genuine to Him (for he knows my heart better than I know my own) but to prove to me that my faith is genuine.  As strong as a person’s faith may be, there lives within the soul of the believer – at least this believer – an element of doubt.  While doctrinally, I believe in “perseverance of the saints,” my sins and imperfections beleaguer me with doubts about my sanctification.  I forget that God is not as concerned with my perfection in faith as He is with my progression in faith.

From this Christian’s ministerial perspective, I recognize that I can do the right thing for the wrong reason.  Duty or meeting the expectations of others is a poor motivation for ministry. 

Whether a pastor realizes it or not, most of their parishioners recognize a lack of sincerity in their ministry.  When I’ve faced hardships or persecutions in ministry, instead of having a pity party, I might do well to consider my “conscience.”  Why do I do what I do?  On one occasion, I posed a question to some fellow pastors: “What is your favorite day of the week?”  Not one of us said “Sunday.”  Though it was helpful to know that I’m not the only pastor who regards Sunday as the most stressful day of the week, I think that it reveals the lack of reverential awe of God in my heart.

Before I became a pastor, Sunday was my favorite day of the week.  Indeed, Sunday morning worship was the highlight of my week.  I might excuse myself for the change of attitude towards the Lord’s day by appealing to the stress of leading two worship services and preaching the word.  However, I sense the Spirit convicting me of my need to repent and reconsider my attitude towards Sunday.  It is possible to be so concerned about “getting things right” in leading others to worship, that I fail to genuinely worship with zeal.

I notice that Peter employs the word zhlwtai [zelotai] rendered “zealous” to describe the attitude that followers of Christ should have for that which is “good.”  The word means “to be deeply committed, passionately consumed with doing the right thing.”  Barclay quotes John Seely as saying: “No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue safe which is not enthusiastic.”  Reluctant duty is a terrible motive for ministry.  Zeal in ministry, even in the face of persecution, is contagious and powerful.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I’m sure are that there have been times when a lack of zeal in ministry on my part has resulted in persecution by others.  Though I may think that it is unjust, it might be a compassionate prodding from You to draw me near and restore zeal in my worship and ministry. 

I praise You for being a God that is intimately acquainted with my thoughts and attitudes – continuing to patiently sanctify me through times of doubt and lethargy and dutiful ministry.  When I meditate upon Your grace to this sinner, I marvel at Your forbearance.  I recognize that zeal in ministry does not protect me from the passing trials and tribulations that marred this world.  But Your grace is sufficient.

Restore to me the zeal in ministry I need to be an effective servant to others and the faithful servant of Your son Jesus Christ my Lord.  It is in His name that I make these requests.  Amen!

The Diagnosis of the Blind

posted Nov 9, 2018, 9:52 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Nov 9, 2018, 5:06 PM ]

“They do not know how to do right,”
declares the Lord, “those who store up
violence and robbery in their strongholds.”
- Amos 3:10 [ESV]

 

Yet another mass shooting occurred yesterday in a nightclub.  A few weeks ago, a mass shooting occurred in a synagogue.  I watch media personalities in shock asking the question that all of us ask: “Why?  What would drive a person to do this?”  The Prophet Amos answers with these words: “They do not know how to do right.” Frightened by the rise of revolutionary socialism/communism in his day with its militant atheism and destructively nihilistic attitude toward the time tested morals of Christianity, Dostoevsky said: "If there is no God, then everything is permitted.”

I live in a day of the fulfillment of the cultural decay brought about by the "God is dead" mentality of the sixties.  I am just old enough to remember the time when Biblical morality was regarded as normal.  Now I live in a day of moral blindness – where everything is permissible.

A lost nation marvels at the increase of violence and yet the cultural elite and intelligentsia cannot even diagnose the problems causing repeated mass shootings, cultural intolerance of time-tested traditional values manifested by riots and mobs who hate this country and all that it stands for and regard any speech at all that disagrees with them as being “hate speech.”  Elections cannot be held and settled because losers have lawyers who seek to overturn the will of the electorate.  The culture has become so morally depraved that it cannot even distinguish between God-given genders of male and female.

Due to their hubris and ignorance of God’s word, the intelligentsia of today are like doctors who are forever treating symptoms rather than seeking cures for the underlying illness.  When a shooting occurs, the solution is to blame the gun, not the culprit.  When an unwanted pregnancy occurs, the solution is to slaughter the baby, not bear the responsibility for one’s actions.  When a person suffers from the mental abnormality of gender confusion, the solution is to coerce society to normalize the behavior.  And of course those, who do not join in the charade are regarded as intolerant.

I live in a day where wrong is not called “wrong” and what is right is an abomination.  The Judeo-Christian ethic is regarded as antiquated and atheism is rapidly becoming the national religion, thanks to leftists in institutions of higher learning and their sycophants in media and the arts.  Though there is still a remnant of Christianity in culture, much of what is still left that is called “Christian” has become indistinguishable from the culture.  Thus you have clergy molesting children, blessing abortion clinics and lauding the benefits of pornography.  It isn’t politically correct to proclaim Christ as the only way to God – indeed God in human flesh.  Therefore political correctness is the spirit of the antichrist. (1 John 4:3) 

It isn’t rocket science to diagnose the source of society’s ills.  For those of us who have witnessed the progressive attack on Judeo-Christian values that once governed a largely peaceful populace where mass shootings were practically nonexistent, and freedom of speech was a constitutional right, the source is secular humanism.  The vast majority of the populace including the cultural, political and media elite, have no moral compass because they have no knowledge of God.  Indeed, they mock the very idea of the existence of God, though proof of God’s existence abounds all around us.  I’m reminded of the words of John Calvin: “The sun is no less bright because blind men don’t perceive its light.”  My country is doomed to increased violence, incivility, intolerance, political fraud and deceit because she steadfastly refuses to diagnose and treat her disease of godlessness.

It is easy for this armchair viewer of national and world events to sit back and say: “Isn’t this a shame,” or self-righteously placate my conscience by condemning those who are blind to God’s existence.  But the truth is that I have my share of responsibility for the ignorance of the populace of God’s existence.  Though I preach Sunday after Sunday, it is largely preaching to the choir.  I have not been the evangelist that I should’ve been.  And sometimes, my walk has not matched my talk.  Christianity has a credibility crisis today.  It is our failure to be salt and light that has resulted in my country’s demise.  We have fallen for pop-theology that promises an easy out ending when things get really tough.  We’re going to face persecution on a scale unparalleled in history from our secular culture in tandem with pseudo-ecclesiastical heretics mainstreamed by a godless society.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as I watch my nation self-destruct, I marvel at your patience.  I lament ever entrusting my children to godless educators who have indoctrinated them with atheistic secular humanism.  Remove their blindness and the blindness of their generation to the obvious devolution of the moral fiber of our country.  You waited patiently in the days of Noah.  Awaken the next generation to the result of the spiritual lethargy in my generation before it is too late.  Amen.

The Christian's Dual Citizenship

posted Nov 6, 2018, 10:59 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Nov 6, 2018, 11:55 AM ]

“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood.
Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
- 1 Peter 2:17 [ESV]

 

This morning I had the privilege of doing what billions of people across the globe never have the opportunity to do.  I was able to cast a vote regarding the leadership of my country.  The Bible has no explicit reference to voting – at least not in order to establish governmental leadership.

As I’ve been meditating on this letter by Simon Peter, one reality has governed my thinking.  That reality is that the Christian is not a citizen of this world.  While he or she may technically be regarded as a citizen of a particular state or municipality, the Christian’s citizenship in the kingdom of God transcends any earthly politics.  We’re “exiles” or “aliens” in a country that is not our own. (1:1)

This is one reason that I wince every time I hear America refer to as a “Christian nation.”  We’re not a Christian nation.  We have never been a purely Christian nation.  We have been a nation that has been largely influenced by Judeo-Christian laws.  But thankfully, the church has not been wed to the state, for a compulsory Christianity is no Christianity at all.

The Christian is to be “politically homeless.”  In the current political climate, I often hear Christians regard one party as the “party of God” while the other party is the party of secular humanism.  Even though one party actually booed God at their last convention, while the other party has platform positions more in line with biblical morality, it is very dangerous for Christians to elevate a political party above Christian piety.  Political parties change.  The word of God does not.  In my short lifetime, I’ve seen radical changes in both political parties.  I’ve often noticed that politicians from both political parties pander to their base with promises that never seem to see the light of day once they are in power.

So as I meditate upon this text, I am mindful of my call to be a political exile without a home in either party.  This change in my attitude comes as the result of spiritual maturity, just as it did for Simon Peter.

I am reminded of Peter’s reaction at the arrest of Jesus.  The apostle John writes: Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.” (John 18:10 [ESV]) One might object at this comparison, saying that Peter’s resistance was not a display of civil disobedience, but rather a defense of Jesus against ecclesiastical persecution.  However, it must be remembered that the Jews in captivity to Rome still regarded their government as theocratic, to a degree and the chief priests were working in league with a Roman government which provided the Roman cohort to arrest Jesus.

Thus, as an early disciple of Jesus, Peter made the mistake of thinking that his faith required disobedience to government.  His ignorance was excusable due to his allegiance to his Lord.  But Jesus rebuked him for his action.  “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52 [ESV])  Jesus did not favor insurrection, but warned against it.  In most cases, obedience to authorities whom God has sovereignly placed over the believer results in both a greater witness to the public (vs. 15) and greater favor with God. (vs. 20)

Submission to governmental authority is not always easy - especially if the leader of one’s country is immoral.  When I was in the military, I was required to obey the orders of those in the chain of command above me.  Some of the officers were honorable men who earned the moral authority to lead and did command respect.  Some of the officers deserved no respect due to their immorality or inefficiency.  Yet, I had to respect their rank and fulfill Peter’s instruction to “honor everyone.”

Simon Peter learned his lesson well from the Lord.  Therefore, he exhorted the aliens of his day to “Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  This instruction would likely have been a shock to the believers in Peter’s day.  The emperor was Nero, who vigorously persecuted Christians and lived a morally reprehensible life.  In my lifetime, I have been forced to live as a citizen under some presidents that I regarded as morally reprehensible men.  None of them, however, was as evil as Nero.  In fact, the numeric value of “Kaiser Neron” was cxV or “six hundred and sixty-six.” (Revelation 13:18[ESV])  Can anyone doubt that Nero certainly fit John’s description of the beast from the earth?

Finally, I note the words: “Love the brotherhood.” No one is more ardently pro-life than I am when it comes to the issue of abortion.  In my view, abortion is the slaughter of a pre-born little boy or girl in the womb of his or her mother.  Lately, I’ve seen an increase in signs or posts from Christians that read: “If you vote for a pro-choice or pro-abortion politician, you are not a Christian!”  

I am sympathetic with such statements and have been tempted to make them myself, but doing so is theologically problematic, for it is adding a new requirement for salvation to the requirement of faith and repentance.  Adherence to a particular view regarding a moral and political issue is not a prerequisite for regeneration.  I became a Christian before I became pro-life.  It was education regarding the personhood of the fetus that changed my position on the issue.  Not all Christians have been privy to that education or seen an abortion.  Was I not a Christian when I was misled about this issue?  Did I become a Christian when I became pro-life?  No.  I became a Christian when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, I am to follow Simon Peter’s instruction to “love the brotherhood” regardless of their pro-choice rhetoric.  Part of loving my Christian brother or sister is practicing the discipline of prayer for them.  I should pray for God to open the eyes of Christians blinded to God’s will regarding the sanctity of human life, rather than sit in judgment upon their eternal destiny for being deceived regarding what is really going on in abortion clinics.

As for those who are unbelievers, a Christian must not expect of them the same moral convictions that the Christian is to have.  Yesterday, I read a letter regarding a description of Christianity entitled LETTER TO DIOGNETUS.  In it, the writer says:

   

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. 

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them.”

 

Would be that would be the description of the church in America – not wed to political affiliations but instead aliens to our secular culture and fully devoted citizens of the kingdom of God!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, this alien comes to You in prayer interceding for my country.  Help me as a believer not to be so heavenly minded that I am no earthly good.  Keep me mindful that Your kingdom transcends politics and that the fulfillment of Your kingdom will not come through a political party or a politician.

I ask not that my country become a “Christian nation” but that Your church become “politically homeless.”  Guide us to advance Your kingdom in a nation that is not our own.  Bring about another great awakening that has a positive influence upon the people in this land.  This is my prayer in Jesus name.  Amen!

Jesus - A Precious Cornerstone

posted Nov 2, 2018, 4:18 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Nov 3, 2018, 11:40 AM ]

“For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying

in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and

precious, and whoever believes in him will not

be put to shame.’  So the honor is for you who

believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The

stone that the builders rejected has become the

cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a

rock of offense.’  They stumble because they

disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”

- 1 Peter 2:6-8 [ESV]

 

            Having exhorted his readers to come to Christ whom he calls a living stone” Who Himself was rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,” Peter makes the case that they are to be like their Lord.  Hence he referred to them as living stones…being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4-5 [ESV])

Here he elaborates on the imagery of Christ Himself being the cornerstone and he draws from the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22) to draw contrast between the outcome of this truth for those who believe (and are saved) and those who disobey (and are lost.)

 

Three observations come to mind:

 

First, one might expect the last sentence to say that they stumble because they disbelieve the word as a direct contrast to the one that “believes”(vs. 6)  Instead, Peter says that they reject Christ and are lost because they “disobey” the word.  This points to the oft repeated truth in scripture that faith and works are so intertwined, that one cannot have one of the two without the other. (James 2:14-18, John 3:36.)  This interpretation is further buttressed by the fact that Christ is a stone of stumbling for those “who do not believe” which is then cited as the reason for their stumbling.

Secondly, I note from the flow of the passage that as Christ is the living stone, we are living stones built into the edifice which is His church.  There are to be no errant stones lying around outside the church.  This imagery rules out the possibility of lone ranger Christianity.  A stone by itself is useless.  I have seen people who leave church with a condescending attitude toward all the imperfect people in the church.  Do they not realize that the church is built on the foundation of the cornerstone – Jesus Christ?  To be outside the church one has to build upon the shifting sands of religion.  Let the disciple of Christ build upon Christ as his or her cornerstone.

Thirdly, my attention is drawn to the words: whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ The word translated “put to shame” can also be translated “disappointed.”[NASB]  Even as I meditate upon this passage, I am experiencing disappointment in my Christian life – disappointment due to my own sin and frankly, due to unanswered prayer which may be largely due to the aforementioned sin.  Sometimes I wonder if You are really listening Oh God.  I can relate to the words of a Christian band called 10th Avenue North in their song, “Hold my heart.”

 

How long must I pray

Must I pray to You?

How long must I wait

Must I wait for You?

How long till I see Your face

See You shining through?

I'm on my knees

Begging You to notice me.

I'm on my knees

Father, will You turn to me?

 

As I listen to the rata-tat-tat at of rain outside the window, I’m reminded of the final lyrics of that song:

 

One tear in the dropping rain

One voice in a sea of pain

Could the maker of the stars

Hear the sound of my breaking heart?

One light, that's all I am

Right now I can barely stand

If You're everything You say You are

Won't You come close and hold my heart?

Hold my heart

Could You hold my heart

Hold my heart!

 

Perhaps my doubt about Christ holding my heart is due to my failure to rest upon Him as my foundation – after all, to be supported, the hand has to be under the heart just like the cornerstone.  I’m reminded of the song that answers the cry of my heart above.  I still remember singing it as a young Presbyterian boy in a musical.  It went like this:

 

Christ is made the sure foundation,

Christ the head and cornerstone,

chosen of the Lord, and precious,

binding all the church in one,

Holy Zion's help forever,

and her confidence alone.

 

My confidence should not be founded upon my own righteousness.  Nor can I as a believer afford not to seek the fellowship of other living stones.  I must build upon the firm foundation of Christ as my cornerstone.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the imagery of Christ as the cornerstone of the church.  Thank you for the reminder that faith encompasses the more than belief but also obedience.  Thank you for the hope that you offer this disappointed saint.  Forgive me of my sin based upon the cross.  Grant me confidence and obedience to build upon Christ the Cornerstone.  Amen.

Alien Stones

posted Nov 2, 2018, 9:45 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Nov 2, 2018, 3:51 PM ]

Image result for living stones scripture“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but
in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves
like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house,
to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
- 1 Peter 2:4-5 [ESV]
 

From the beginning of this letter, I have seen myself as the recipient and as such, called to be an “alien” or an “exile” in this world.  Aliens or exiles aren’t given the same privileges as those who are actually citizens of a country.  In fact, often aliens are looked upon with suspicion and disdain by the populace.  As I meditate upon this sentence, the Spirit draws my attention first to the words “rejected by men.”  I increasingly feel like an alien in my country.  That is part and parcel of being a Christian in America today.  Anyone who is bold enough to live out their faith and share their faith with others will certainly face rejection.  I dare say, any professing Christian who has never experienced cultural rejection might well ask themselves if they are a Christian at all.

Rejection in whatever form it takes is somewhat of an assault on one’s pride and self-esteem.  I recall the fear I had as a teenager asking girls out on a date because I did not wish to be “shot down” – which was our expression for rejection by a girl.  It was a crisis of epic proportions to this teenaged boy to experience rejection by a girl.

On a far more serious note, rejection by one’s culture and especially by one’s family is particularly heart-wrenching.  Yet that is what the Christian is called to do.  We are not to be bruised in our ego by rejection from the world, because we should have no ego to bruise. 

Our sense of self-worth must be routed in our privileged position in the sight of God chosen and precious.”  Why should we fret over the opinion of man when God values us intimately?

Our value to God has nothing to do with anything that we can offer Him.  He gave Himself for us as our redeemer.  We are redeemed for a purpose and that purpose is here defined as becoming living stones...being built up as a spiritual house,” which is an obvious reference to the church. 

The nature of the church is not to be thought of as a building composed of brick and mortar.  No, the church is composed of a holy priesthood of people.  The average Christian reading this may find the reference in the text to them as “a holy priesthood” to be inaccurate.  Most of us are not priests in ecclesiastical circles.  Peter elaborates on this five verses later.

Nevertheless, every Christian is a priest in God’s eyes.  The word priest translates the Latin word “pontifex” which means “bridge builder.”  All Christians have a responsibility and commission to build bridges between their fellow man and almighty God.

What is meant by the words: to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”?  It cannot mean to offer up sacrifices that are somehow propitiatory for sins we commit, since Christ removed our sin and guilt at the cross. (Hebrews 9:28) When interpreted in light of the totality of the New Testament, we find that the sacrifices offered by the Christian to God involve ministry to others, praise, holiness, and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice.  (Hebrews 13:15-16, 1 Peter 1:16, Romans 12:1.)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t feel very “priestly” today.  I’m a rebellious sinner.  I don’t have much to offer in the way of spiritual sacrifices; nor do I feel like a very sturdy stone in your spiritual edifice known as the church.  As I was listening to the radio a while ago I heard the lyrics: “And I’ll be by your side whenever you fall, in the dead of night whenever you call, please don’t fight these hands that are holding you.” You have been so good to this sinner Lord, how can I not love You with all my heart?  Free me from the sin of being satisfied with anything less than Your presence and give me the spiritual perception that I need so that I can offer spiritual sacrifices that glorify You.  Amen.

A Societal Cry for Christian Counterculturalism

posted Oct 29, 2018, 12:21 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Oct 29, 2018, 12:27 PM ]

“So put away all malice and all deceit
and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
- 1 Peter 2:1 [ESV]
 

When I began focusing on 1 Peter during my quiet times a month ago, I knew that this letter had particular application to the Christian as an “alien” in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to the church and religion in general.  I have focused upon the reality that the Christian is to be an “alien” or an “exile” or a “stranger” to this world. (1 Peter 1:1)  Little did I know that today I would be meditating upon a text that is as applicable to the Christian (and, quite frankly, the nation) as this exhortation by Simon Peter is in the current cultural context characterized by incivility in rhetoric and punctuated by violence and intolerance.  The examples during the last week include mail-bombs sent to prominent left-wing politicians, a financier, and a major cable news network.  Then 11 people in a synagogue were killed during their worship service.

Buried in the news under all of the mayhem was an action by the Pittsburgh school board barring district employees and its schools from officially participating in a kids’ run sponsored by Chick-fil-A due to their CEOs stand on traditional marriage.  (I want to make it clear that I do not think that there is any connection between the shooting in Pittsburgh in the school board decision.  Zip, zero, nada.)  These events are merely examples that the Lord brings to mind of intolerance toward those who hold to the Judeo-Christian ethic and examples of what happens to a society that jettisons that ethic from culture. 

It was Dostoevsky who said, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."  A pastor colleague Mel Blackaby lamented this morning on social media: “…here is the reality, hatred, like all sin, does not know when to stop, but grows and expands into actions with devastating consequences.” And so the disciple of Jesus Christ finds himself (or herself) in a post-Christian culture where “malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy” and “slander” rule the day.  Yes, this verse is very contemporary.

Who is to blame for the devolution of our culture into an amoral abyss of hatred, division, intolerance, rhetorical incivility and violence?  It is easy for the Christian to point fingers at politicians or the entertainment elite.  However some self-examination is in order.

The temptation for the Christian is to get caught up in it all.  We rightly participate in elections and support candidates who promise to support some aspects of the Judeo- Christian ethic such as the sanctity of human life.  We wrongly wed ourselves to any political party or candidate as a champion for the Christian cause and a solution to our country’s moral ills.  And we especially are wrong if our rhetoric foments hatred against those we see as opposed to the Judeo-Christian ethic.  We dare not “fight fire with fire” or equivocate our Christian convictions in order to defend behavior that is indefensible.

I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse and the following one:

 

So clean house!  Make a clean sweep of malice in pretense, envy and hurtful talk.  

You’ve had a taste of God.  Now, like infants at the breast, drink of God’s pure 

kindness.  Then you’ll grow up mature and hold in God.” (1 Peter 2:1-2 The message.)

 

We cannot expect the “lost” to act “saved.”  They haven’t had a “taste of God.”  But we can set an example and be salt and light in a society that desperately needs God.

What God is telling me today is that I need to guard myself against allowing my strong moral and political convictions to tempt me into behavior that is unbecoming of one who is called to be an “alien” to this world.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for allowing my anger at politicians and their sycophants in the media and in the populace to tempt me to behave like the world.  Forgive me for placing my hope in politicians for moral renewal.  Time after time, they have pandered to me and yet seldom keep their promises.  Give me discernment as I live as an alien in this land.  Crucify my anger at the anti-Christian secular progressives and replace it with love for my enemy and prayer for their conversion.  This is my prayer in Jesus name.  Amen! 

A Seed of Hope for the Hopelessly Lost

posted Oct 26, 2018, 10:52 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Oct 27, 2018, 3:46 PM ]

“since you have been born again, not of
perishable seed but of imperishable, through
the living and abiding word of God; for
‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory
like the flower of grass. The grass withers,
and the flower falls, but the word of the
Lord remains forever.’ And this word is
the good news that was preached to you.”
- 1 Peter 1:23-25 [ESV]
 

I spent 3 hours last night in prayer over the lostness of a loved one.  How could he at one time would seem to have an apparently genuine conversion only to become an atheist?  I read this text and such a turn of events seems impossible.

If one is “born again” and is a new creature in Christ, how then does the birthing process get reversed?  Peter speaks of a “seed” that is “imperishable.”  And the language suggests that in the process of rebirth in the believer is passive.  It is God who provides the seed “through” His “living and abiding word.”

Perhaps, it is the image of the seed that answers my question.  What is one of the main characteristics of a natural seed?  Answer: It is designed to die!  That is, in the process of generating life, it loses its form.  Simon Peter likely has in mind the parable of the sower in which the seed is the word.  All three of the synoptic gospels contain the parable (Matthew 13:3-8, Mark 4:3-9, and Luke 8:5-8)  Matthews account reads as follows:

 

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:3-8 [ESV])

 

There is no better interpreter of His parables than Jesus himself.  He explains the meaning:

 

“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” (Matthew 13:20-21[ESV])

 

I’ve seen this happen countless times in my ministry.  A person prays to receive Christ, experiences the euphoria which naturally comes with the promise of eternal life.  But then, things get tough and they fall away.  The closer they are to me, the more it hurts when they fail to persevere.  When it is a loved one, the pain is particularly acute.  Indeed it is a source of unceasing grief in my life.

In both Jesus’ parable and Peter’s epistle, the imperishable seed is inextricably related to the word of God.  Jesus simply says, “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11)

For the seed of the word of God to bear fruit, it must find the soil of the soul.  The topography of Palestine sheds greater light on the meaning of this parable.  William Barclay writes:

 

The stony ground is not ground that was filled with stones; it was, what was very common in Palestine, a thin skin of earth on top of an underlying shelf of limestone rock.  The earth might only be a very few inches deep before the rock was reached.  On such ground the seed would certainly germinate; and it would germinate quickly, because such ground grew speedily warm with the heat of the sun, but there was no depth of earth and when it sent down its roots in search of nourishment and moisture, it would meet only rock, and would be starved to death, and quite unable to withstand the heat of the sun. (Daily Study Bible Series, Gospel of Matthew Vol 2. by William Barclay)

 

Contrary to popular evangelical interpretation today, of the four soils only the last represents a person who is saved.  As I meditate upon my loved one’s life, I think that my loved one fits the description found in verses 5-6.  Only God knows what is going on in the secret recess is of one’s soul.  Nevertheless, Jesus does say: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16 [ESV]) It is true that he said this with reference to false teachers, but I suspect strongly that it has reference to everyone who represents themselves as a Christian yet ends up bearing rotten fruit or no fruit it all.

It appears that for many there is a thin layer of topsoil that provides just enough nourishment to produce foliage (a brief show of religious ardor) but deep down inside there is still a bedrock of rebellion that refuses to yield one’s life completely to the seed of the word.

I guess while I am grieving over the lostness of my loved one, I dare not fail to make a spiritual detour to examine myself in light of this text.  Is there a bedrock of rebellion in my life?  Recently, I read a convicting quote from Gilbert Tenant: “For I am verily persuaded the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ; and the reason why congregations have been so dead is, because they have had dead man preaching to them.”  As one who preaches the good news and sows the seed, I must ask myself, “Are the spiritual miscarriages I have seen in my ministry the result of a secret rebellion in my heart, a failure on my part, or lack of devotion to Christ in my heart?”  I recall Henry Blackaby once stating that of those he’d evangelized and brought into his church, neither he or his wife could remember anyone that they had lost and he cited the words of Jesus: “Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost.” (John 17:12 [NKJV])  Why do I fall short of that standard?  During the course of a quarter of the century of ministry, this pastor has seen a number of members of his flocks depart – including some of my dearest loved ones.  Is the problem not them but me?  The words of Kierkegaard come to mind:

In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself. But he who cannot reveal himself cannot love, and he who cannot love is the most unhappy man of all.”

I echo the prayer of Spurgeon: “Damn not my hearers for the sins of this Your preacher.”

The seed that Peter speaks of is itself imperishable.  Peter contrasts it to man’s transient and brief time on this earth: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”  The word endures no matter what.

Yet, it is a seed, and for lack of a better explanation, it dies to become new life.  In Christ we’re call to die to ourselves.  In evangelical circles I’m afraid that too often we neglect that teaching to our peril and to the detriment of others.  I confess with shame that early in my ministry I fell prey to such seductive thinking.  We naturally want to see as many people as possible come to Christ.  Sometimes, we market the gospel in such a way that the gospel package has emblazoned on it: “Free Trip to Heaven by the grace of God!”  but we regulate the transformative nature of grace to fine print.  We make the gospel easy in order to win more converts and the result is shallow soil church members whose lives have never been transformed; who know nothing of cross-bearing and self-denial.  Then when they experience the heat of persecution, hardship, or intellectual ridicule, they wither away having no root.

Weren’t they born of what Simon Peter calls “imperishable seed”?  They received the “imperishable seed” on the surface but it did not find root or they would not have fallen away.  John writes: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19 [ESV])

Jonathan Edwards said:

 

“Perseverance in faith is, in one sense, the condition of justification; that is, the promise of acceptance is made only to a persevering sort of faith, and the proper evidence of it being that sort is its actual perseverance.


Is there any hope for my lost loved one?  Or is he inoculated to the gospel?  At least five times in his life I’ve seen God deliver him from death.  Perhaps by an act of His sovereign grace, the Lord is tilling the soil of his soul so that the seed of the word will take deep root someday.


Heavenly Father, Let that day come quickly for I fear that my loved one is in such a state of lostness that Hebrew 6:4-6 describes him.  Yet, nothing is impossible with You.  Your seed is indeed imperishable but is resting right now on a hard bedrock of rebellion.  In tears I cry out asking You to ready the soul of my loved one to receive Your imperishable seed.  Overcome his doubts.  Awaken him to Your love.  Open his eyes to the grace and forbearance that You have shown for him, that even while he curses and denies You, You have preserved his life repeatedly.  This is the prayer of Your servant who is also a sinner with a broken heart.  Amen!  

Going the Extra Mile in Love

posted Oct 24, 2018, 12:03 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Oct 24, 2018, 1:03 PM ]

“Having purified your souls by your obedience
to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love
one another earnestly from a pure heart,”
- 1 Peter 1:22 [ESV]

As I read this text, I am struck by the simplicity of the exhortation and the basis for that exhortation.  Simon Peter has been discussing the holiness of the Christian culminating with the mention of God’s sovereignty in redeeming the believer through Christ sacrifice and resurrection.  This supplies the believer with grounds for “faith and hope” (vs. 2.) Here he mentions “brotherly love.”  So the “Pauline triad” faith, hope, and love, is the “Petrine triad” as well.

But what strikes me as interesting is that Peter refers to a brotherly love that they have already attained having had their “souls purified by…obedience to the truth.”  Since they had already attained “sincere brotherly love,” it seems odd that Peter would exhort them further.  It is as though he is saying to them and by extension to us: Based upon your new birth and identity in Jesus Christ, let your behavior bespeak of your new life.  In other words, become what you already are in Christ.  A loveless Christianity is no Christianity at all.  A loveless disciple is not a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ for He said: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 [ESV])

It is also noteworthy that Peter uses two different words for love.  First, “brotherly love” translates φιλαδελφίαν [philadelphian] which means the kind of love one would have for his brother.    The latter word translated “love” is ἀγαπήσατε [agapesate] which lexically is stronger and usually refers to sacrificial love.  The adjective modifying “brotherly love” is “sincere” which translates ἀνυπόκριτον [anupokriton] which means without hypocrisy.  Whereas the adjective modifying agape love “earnestly” ἐκτενῶς [ektenos] suggests the idea of “not relaxing in effort, or acting in a right spirit.” (Vines) Literally, this compound word which means “to stretch out.”  It seems to me that Peter is saying: “You are honest in your love for each other, but be willing to go the extra mile.”  The world says: Don't go that extra mile for someone who isn't even worth the run."

The Christian is to regard everyone as “worth the run.”  In a society full of alienated and dislocated people at odds with one another, the Christian who loves their enemies and is willing to go the extra mile not only becomes a peacemaker but a powerful witness for Christ.

Doing such requires a “purified soul.”  Peter mentions that the soul is purified by “obedience to the truth.”  I note that he doesn’t say mere “knowledge of the truth.”  Truth and love are not binary.  They go together.  In fact, either without the other is disastrous. 

Truth without love alienates others.  I think of the orthodox church legalist who is long on truth but short on compassion.  Love without truth enables the beloved to destroy themselves.  Sometimes, truth requires one to exercise “tough love” – that is, confronting a loved one with a reality that they do not wish to hear - yet must hear - in order to avoid hurting themselves and others.  Some years ago, I remember the following illustration from a message by Chuck Swindoll:

 

Rivers like the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates were cradles of civilization.  Ancient cities were established near their waters to draw from them life and livelihood.  The rivers were used for drinking, irrigation, cleansing, fishing, and transportation.  But when they flooded, entire cities could be wiped out.  Homes were destroyed; businesses were ruined; people were drowned.  If the river ever left its banks, chaos, destruction, and disease would inundate the cities.  Similarly, love is a river around which the church flourishes.  The bank’s levied against the river of love are knowledge and discernment.  Without these restraints, love can be destructive.  Opening your heart to every wind of doctrine is like opening the floodgates of spiritual destruction.

 

In a day in which tolerance is elevated over truth, those who practice an alternative self-destructive lifestyle and their enablers who tout themselves as “loving” and “tolerant” often say, "You must approve of what I (or they) do because if you don’t it offends me." A Christian governed by genuine Christ-like love responds, "I must do something more difficult: I will love you (or them), even when their behavior offends me."

As those called to be “aliens” who are increasingly marginalized in a culture whose god is political correctness, I and other Christians are going to be called to exercise tough love more and more frequently and often at great personal risk.

Heavenly Father, I confess to You that I have not always kept truth and love in balance.  Forgive me for those times that I may have elevated truth at the expense of love, resulting in the alienation of other sinners from Your truth.  And forgive me for those times that I may have elevated love over truth and enabled others to hurt themselves because of my fear of exercising tough love.

Help me to find purity of soul through obedience to Your truth recognizing that “truth” in essence is a “person” – and that Person is none other than my Lord Jesus Christ.  It is in his name that I make this prayer.  Amen.

A Reminder of Victory in the Face of Defeat

posted Oct 22, 2018, 9:56 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Oct 22, 2018, 7:31 PM ]

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the
world but was made manifest in the last times for
the sake of you who through him are believers in
God, who raised him from the dead and gave him
glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
- 1 Peter 1:20-21 [ESV]
 

This passage reveals a staggering thought.  That is that “before the foundation of the world” the second person of the Trinity, creator of the world (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16-17) was first the redeemer of the world.  It is difficult for man, as creatures of time, to wrap our minds around this truth.  The crucifixion and resurrection epoch was not an afterthought due to man’s unforeseen sin.  God the Father foreknew the Son and those who would be redeemed by Him. (vs. 2)

It is also worthy of note, that the incarnation was solely for the benefit of His people.  He had no other reason but our salvation for his humiliation by becoming human for a brief 30 year period - the end of which resulted in a horrifying death.  (Though death did not prove to be the end for Him.)  Simon Peter was a witness to Jesus’ miracles, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and great commission.  He writes this letter with these things in mind.  And his purpose is clearly stated: so that your faith and hope are in God.”

I read this text this morning as a man in grief.  I grieve for those who have fallen prey to the vain and deceptive philosophies of this world.  I see arrayed against people of my faith a godless world system that seems to be winning the battle for the minds and hearts of young people.  Secular humanism has infiltrated and permeated educational institutions making prophets out of professors and disciples out of students whose new world view is buttressed by a sympathetic media which parrots the secular party line.  The world-wide web frequently censors conservative Judeo-Christian thought. A political party, not constrained by morality, uses voter fraud to further advance their anti-Judeo-Christian worldview.  Sometimes it seems as though an unholy trinity of ecclesiastical compromise, secular humanistic indoctrination (through both education and the media), and power of the secular elite (who occupy positions of political power [fomenting rioting] wielding great financial clout) are winning the day.  This avalanche of opposition is formidable enough to challenge a believer’s faith and hope for the future.

I’m reminded by this text that though Christians will lose some smaller skirmishes in the overall war for the souls of men, we will prevail in the end.  As Paul said: “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” - 2 Corinthians 10:4 [ESV]

We cannot fight the battle using the enemy’s tactics.  We must not mimic their rioting and physical assaults.  We cannot change the media nor can we infiltrate academia – at least, not in a short period of time.  If our hope is anchored in a philosophy of “fighting fire with fire,” it is misplaced.  Peter knew something about governmental and societal persecution, yet he encourages these “aliens” or “exiles” in this world by reminding them of the source of “faith and hope.”  That is, Almighty God and the resurrected Christ.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for failing to remember that even before the cross Your Son was Redeemer and my redemption was planned and secured in Him.  Forgive me also, for my anger and foolish expectations that lost people should behave righteously.  Help me to love the lost in spite of their hatred.  Keep me from harboring a bitter vengeful spirit.  Instead, help me to turn the other cheek.  Save my children and my extended family from capitulation to an increasingly anti-Christian society.  This is my prayer in Jesus name.  Amen.

The King’s Ransom and the Christian’s Response

posted Oct 19, 2018, 8:48 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Oct 19, 2018, 9:12 AM ]

“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways
inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable
things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood
of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
- 1 Peter 1:18-19 [ESV]

 

Someone has said: “Money can’t buy happiness.”  In the church we sing: “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  I’m not sure about the theology of that song, because unless we trust and obey were not in Jesus at all.  God’s primary goal in this life for us is not that we achieve happiness but rather, holiness.  Nevertheless, it is a rather austere way of thinking to suppose that a genuine Christian could possibly be unhappy in Jesus.  Indeed, Jesus is to be our supreme source of joy and happiness.

In this passage, Peter is drawing a contrast between the futility of the religion practiced by their forefathers and the faith these aliens now enjoy in Christ.  The futility of religion is that one thinks that they can “buy God off” or “win his approval” through gifts or offerings of money or possessions – as though God needed any of these things.  Some almost seem to regard life as a ledger before God.  As long as their good deeds outweigh their sins then they’re OK with God.  Unfortunately, most don’t realize that “ledger theory” isn’t the way God designed our salvation.

Peter says that the believer is: ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ.”    The Scriptures teach us that redemption refers to the freedom granted to the believer by means of the payment of a penalty or ransom.

These two verses are the completion of a sentence that began in verse 17.   In it, Peter exhorts the exiles to conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”  In this verse, he is giving the motivation for their reverent fear in serving Christ.  That is the ransom that He paid.  As I follow the flow of this passage, I’m reminded of the hymn lyrics: “Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.”

Recently, I read the story of the English King Richard I, (also known as “Richard the Lionheart.”)  Back in the year 1193 AD, he was returning from leading a Crusade to the Holy Land. As he returned through Europe, Leopold V captured him in Austria. The Holy Roman Emperor demanded a ransom for Richard's release. The price was to be 150,000 marks, equal to 3 tons of silver. This was a seemingly impossible ransom demand.  However, the people of England so loved their king they submitted to extra taxation, and many nobles donated their fortunes for Richard's release. After many months, the money was raised and King Richard returned to England.  That's where we get the expression, "a king's ransom."

We can never pay God back for the sacrifice of his Son on the cross - redeeming us for the penalty of our sin.  However, based upon our knowledge of the ransom of Christ - the “King of kings, we should live as these people of England lived, and give happily, thankfully and sacrificially to our redeemer and the object of our love - King Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am drawn this morning once again to consider the immensity of the ransom paid by your son for this sinner.  There is no way that I can pay you back.  All I have to give to you is myself.  You have said elsewhere in scripture that I am to give myself as a living sacrifices holy and acceptable to you.  My problem is that as a living sacrifice I keep wanting to crawl off the altar when the heat is turned up.  I confess to you my sin and ask you to help me to live a life of holiness – recognizing that genuine holiness will ultimately lead to happiness in you for eternity.  Amen!

1-10 of 961