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Spiritual Disciplines

kickboxing

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Paul and Peter warn against false teachers. In today’s Bible reading, Jude takes his turn. Who was Jude? There are a couple of possibilities. Jude could have been the Apostle Judas who was sent to Antioch with Paul, Barnabas, and Silas in Acts 15:22. Another, and more likely was the brother of James and half-brother of Jesus; he refers to himself as James’ brother in Jude 1.

Like Paul and Peter, Jude is concerned about false teachers who are leading God’s people astray. Jude says, “Dear friends … I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” (Jude 3 CSB)

I think that most Believers in the Twenty-First Century don’t understand the struggles that First Century Christians were forced to deal with. In addition to the Romans and the Judaizers, Believers had rogue believers to deal with. These were people who may have claimed to have come to faith in Christ and departed, turning to false doctrine, or to extra-biblical myths. They were bad news to the young church. Thus, we find several New Testament writers addressing the problems of these false teachers and telling their readers to be on their guard. Jude says that Believers should fight for their faith. And that’s exactly what they had to do.

Application

But fighting for one’s faith isn’t limited to First Century believers. Even now, we must fight for our faith which is constantly under attack from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Peter says that our faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7) If that is so, it is worth fighting for.

If you’re going to fight for your faith, it’s not only important to know that your faith is worth fighting for, but you have to know your enemy. Again, your faith is under constant assault from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Attacks can — and will — come from all sides. And 1960s comedian Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine was wrong. The devil can’t make you do anything. You will fail the test of faith because you choose to fail the test. That’s why Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) The more you work at it, the better you get!

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promise

In today’s Bible reading, Peter reminds us that God’s promise is sure: Jesus will return. He says that scoffers will come, trying to discourage God’s children by pointing out that Jesus has yet to return. “Where is the promise of His coming He predicted?” (2 Peter 3:4)

There will always be nay-sayers. There will always be scoffers. There will always be haters. But Peter reminds us to be vigilant and to actively wait for Jesus’ return. “Therefore, dear friends, while you wait for these things, make every effort to be found without spot or blemish in his sight, at peace.” 2 Peter 3:14 (CSB)

In Peter’s mind, there’s no such thing as expressing a belief in Christ and then living an unchanged life. Coming to faith in Christ will cause life change. Those who repent of their sin and turn to Jesus (in other words, actually becoming a Christian) have a job to do: stay close and stay clean. (2 Peter 3:14)

Application

OK, so how do you stay close and stay clean? Maintain a close relationship with God. And one of the best ways to do this is to practice the Spiritual Disciplines: Bible reading, Bible study, Bible verse memory, prayer, worship, evangelism, fasting, giving thanks, giving, and fellowshiping with other Believers. (These are a few and they are in no particular order)

One great book on the Spiritual Disciplines is Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Please take a couple of minutes to listen to John Piper talk about Dave Mathis’ book Habits of Grace. I think it really catches the idea behind practicing the Spiritual Disciplines. Spoiler alert: It isn’t about doing the disciplines. It’s about loving Jesus more.

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In today’s Bible reading, Peter paints a very sad picture of the state of the false teachers. Worship leader and songwriter, Billy Foote’s latest song, “All the Wolves” paraphrases Peter’s words.

Destructive heresies. Greed. Made up stories. Bold arrogant people. Slander. Spots. Blemishes. Delighting in their deceptions. Eyes full of adultery, never stopping to look for sin. Gone astray by abandoning the straight path. Loving the wages of wickedness. Springs without water. Mists driven by a storm.

The list of descriptions of these false teachers continues through 2 Peter 2. If these descriptions are true, why would any child of God follow such evil people? Peter partially answers the question in 2 Peter 2:14b, “They seduce unstable people.” (CSB) Paul adds, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3 (CSB)

Application

Because they’re deceptive, they’re difficult to see. It’s like the devil. He isn’t a guy in a red suit with a pointed tail like you see in cartoons. False teachers may look slick. They may sound slick. But like wolves in sheepskin, don’t judge by outward appearances.

So how do you guard against false teachers? The Apostles give us the answers we need: Don’t be unstable. Learn sound doctrine. Read widely in your Bible, not just your favorite passages and your favorite books of the Bible. Log time in the Word. Surround yourself with consistently-strong Bible teachers. And be careful what you read and who you watch/listen to. Some of the “big names” in Bible teachers may be the worst offenders!

One of the best things you can do is plug into a solid Bible-teaching, Spirit-led church. (And I’m not just talking about going to church; I’m talking about plugging into a local church.) There you’ll find help in discerning the good and the bad, the true and the false.

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Beware the Wolves

I read today’s Bible reading a few hours after I read a Facebook post from friends, Billy and Cindy Foote. In Billy’s new song, he has set the Prosperity Gospel peddlers in his crosshairs and fired his shot.

Billy begins his song, “All the Wolves”, with, “I know some preacher men, men with some business plans. And I think this must be said. They’re making millions selling Jesus. They take but they never give.”[1]

Billy’s description could not be further than the reality of Paul’s description of the preaching to and the reception of the Gospel by the Thessalonians.

For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our visit with you was not without result. On the contrary, after we had previously suffered and were treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, we were emboldened by our God to speak the gospel of God to you in spite of great opposition. For our exhortation didn’t come from error or impurity or an intent to deceive. Instead, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please people, but rather God, who examines our hearts. For we never used flattering speech, as you know, or had greedy motives—God is our witness— and we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others. 1 Thessalonians 2:1–6 (CSB)

The ideas of difficulty and suffering are foreign to the wolves. The wolves come only to take and never give.

Application

The wolves are everywhere. They dress well and they sound good. They may also look like sheep. But beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Be careful who you listen to. Be careful who you watch. Be careful who you read. Even the most popular Bible teachers and preachers can be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Look at the fruit of their work. Stay connected to the Word. Examine everything you hear, everything you see, everything you read. Run it through the filter of all of God’s Word. Does it fit with what you see in your Bible?

[1] Please take a few moments to listen and read the lyrics to Billy’s latest song, “All the Wolves“. Prepare

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Campfire

One may wonder why we don’t see today what the First Century Church saw in terms of revolutionary transformation of people. Going back to Acts 2, three thousand people responded to the Gospel message and were baptized.

In one day!

Paul warned several churches, most notably the Galatians, to beware believing a Gospel contrary to the one that he preached to them. He said that even if an angel from heaven appeared and preached a different Gospel, he should be accursed for doing it. (Galatians 1:8-9) The Gospel is crucial! The Gospel is critical. And the Gospel’s purity is worth guarding.

When Paul preached, he wasn’t giving a motivational speech, encouraging people to live better lives or to merely give passing approval to some truth claims. In today’s Bible reading, Paul applauds the Thessalonians for going “all-in” with the “all-in” Gospel message!

So why aren’t we seeing the same results as centuries before? Either the Gospel has changed or the Gospel being proclaimed isn’t the true Gospel. Well, we know the Gospel itself hasn’t changed. So the only other option is that — by and large — perhaps the Gospel that’s being proclaimed isn’t the true Gospel.

Application

Assuming you have received the Gospel message at some point in your life, how affected by the Gospel are you? Is your faith a roaring fire, burning brighter as you hear the Gospel and preach the Gospel to yourself? Or is your faith smoldering, just glowing embers?

When a campfire dies down, the embers glow, but they don’t produce any flames. If you need for it to burn more, you have to add fuel to the fire and add oxygen to the glowing coals. Sometimes getting oxygen deep into the glowing coals means you have to get down on the ground, with your face right next to the fire and slowly blow at the very base of the fire.

To rekindle your fire, to increase your own response to the Gospel you may need to get on your face before God and let Him blow over you with the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe then you’ll respond to the Gospel the way you did once before.

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