“I have this against you…”

What does Scripture have to say to the Bible zealot–that one who lives to know and defend Scripture?  [I’m not talking about the  “Pharisee!” accusation; it is so overused and misapplied that it deserves a post all its own.]  What will keep the eager Bible student from being either slack or heartless in his application of truth?  What can go wrong in using Scripture as a litmus test of every fad and teaching that comes along?

I concluded last week’s blog with these thoughts:

Could the ardent Bible scholar use some prompting to make sure his/her head knowledge translates into real live discipleship? Absolutely. Are there cautions for him/her in the Word of God as well? Certainly. More on that next time (hopefully).”

Toward that end I’ve been reading Paul’s letters to Timothy, his young protégé and ‘child in the faith’. And I’ve been thinking about the Church at Ephesus, which is where Timothy served.…

In his letters Paul exhorts Timothy to hold onto solid teaching, to be a careful student of the Word and to preach it unapologetically. He spurs Timothy on to train himself in godliness and to be on guard for things that precipitate falling away from faith. He repeatedly warns Timothy about false teachers and how to recognize them.

Interestingly, in Paul’s last face-to-face meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus he had warned them of similar things:

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31 ESV)

So the church at Ephesus was well warned and well-armed, with the likes of Timothy and these solid elders. And we know they excelled at this business of detecting false teaching because years down the road they are addressed in John’s Revelation and commended for their unwearied zeal in refusing to tolerate evil and in rooting out false apostles! (Rev. 2:1-3) But something had been lost along the way…

They had lost sight of the motive behind their vigilance. Oh, they were great watchdogs. They hated the works God hates (He commended them for this–Rev.2:6) but they had forgotten love: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4ESV) Love no longer motivated and controlled their zeal.

It hadn’t always been this way. Paul had instructed Timothy to keep love front and central in his teaching: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” I Tim.1:5 He had made sure Timothy understood that his role as the Lord’s servant was not merely to contend for truth but to do so in a way that was kind, patient, and gentle so that those in error could be rescued from ‘the snare of the devil’ and actually turn to embrace truth. (II Tim.2:24-26). The point of holding forth truth is after all not to damn the hearer but to save him! (I Tim. 4:16)

The Ephesian church had in fact been known at one time not only for their faith but for their love. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians mentions this even as he goes on to pray that they will comprehend the extent of Christ’s love for them so they ‘may be filled with all the fullness of God.’ (Eph.1:15; 3:17-19)

Considering the Ephesians’ need to contend with false teaching, I suppose it is no coincidence that the book of Ephesians is saturated with teaching on love:

  • In love God predestined us for adoption 1:4,5
  • I have heard of your faith and love 1:15
  • Because of God’s great love He made us alive with Christ 2:5
  • You are rooted and grounded in love 3:17
  • May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge 3:19
  • Bear with one another in love 4:2
  • Speak the truth in love 4:15
  • The Body builds itself up in love under Christ’s headship 4:16
  • Walk in love as Christ loved us sacrificially 5:2
  • Husbands, love your wives as yourself 5:25,28,33
  • Peace be to you and love with faith 6:23
  • Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. 6:24

If they were to be a church known for their discernment of truth and error it was imperative that they hang onto the motive of love. Without love, truth can be odious.  No amount of knowledge or spiritual gifting can make up for its absence. “If I have all knowledge,…but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Cor.13:2)

Herein lies the caution for the Bible student zealous for truth and bent on confronting error wherever he finds it. Be sure your zeal is driven and delivered with love. Or in God’s own words to the Church at Ephesus:

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:3-5 ESV)

Let me stop here a moment and clarify how I am coming to understand this passage. It has long puzzled me how it can be understood as a call to ‘fall in love’ again–to somehow return to the immature first blush of passionate love we had as pre-marrieds. Even if we could by wishing return to this stage, how would this be helpful, given that being ‘in love’ is more about hormone-driven lust than genuine love? Did we not then mostly love the way we made each other feel? That early ‘love’ had not been tested over the long-haul of babies, jobs, moves and intermittent crises. It knew little of dying to self or ‘bearing all things’—both the ho-hum and high-test. Certainly it isn’t to this state of ‘love’ that we are being called to return in this passage?! If not, then what is being commanded?

As I understand it, what had been abandoned was not merely a passionate emotion. They had lost the sense of being constrained to obedience by the love of Christ. (Cf.II Cor.5:14,15) Their works had once been driven by faith working through love (Cf. Gal.5:6). Now their service had become a robotic duty, fulfilled to the letter but with none of the constraints of love. They were doing, but not loving.

This is a significant temptation for the lover of truth, the one with a gift for discerning truth from error, the eager Bible student… Pride can wiggle in and Love is lost as the motive and means of serving the Body. When we confront error do we do it from a heart that longs for truth to prevail– not for the sake of saying ‘I told you so’, but for the sake of the one(s) being misled, for the sake of the Body, for Christ’s sake? Do we genuinely desire the ultimate success and blessing of those we disagree with? Or are we ready to gloat when they fail?

It is all too easy when exercising our gifts in the Body to lose sight of the purpose for which they were given–for ‘building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ . This too was addressed to the Ephesians (4:12,13). This is love—seeking another’s good with what I have to offer, and this is the purpose for my gifts and yours.

When we lose sight of love, exercising our gifts and pursuing our individual callings can fill us with self-satisfied conceit. Instead of building others up we may find we are only provoking and engendering envy (Gal.5:26).

I confess I am preaching to myself today, as I hope you have guessed by now! As a truth-talker who sometimes blasts others without a view to building them up, I needed this message. It’s one thing to know the truth, but quite another to “not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth”…2Ti 2:24-25 NASB

I have found it helps to remember that we are on the same team–members of the same body. We are placed in that body and given gifts for its completion, not our own distinction. We are in this thing together for the glory of God, not our own glory, and for the building up of His church, not our own following. Bringing His bride to perfection is ultimately God’s job; the part He calls us to play will have to be done in love if it is to be effective. That’s the way He made the Body to grow! (Eph.4:15,16). Without love our best efforts are worthless (I Cor.13).

On a practical note, one sure way I’ve found to check and purify my motives is prayer. I may perceive errors, bad doctrine, questionable teaching. It may or may not be my job to set a person straight, but I can always pray. I can always ask God to reveal truth to all parties involved, including myself! And when I pray my heart is softened, any hostile intent exposed, and hopefully I come closer to understanding God’s heart toward the issue or person at hand. I become more concerned about His purposes prevailing than about being ‘right’.  And that’s the best starting point for any disciple!

Thanks for listening in on my lesson this week.  What are you learning about your part in the Body?  I’d love to hear.  Do send along a comment or an email.


Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” I Jn2:10

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leas, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” Rom.12:6-8

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Rom.15:5-7

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Rom.16:20

Skeptic, Critic, and/or Lover of Truth?

P1020199 “I’m skeptical…”

I’m sure I’ve said this of myself more than once. I am cautious to jump on ‘band wagons’, hesitant to go along with a crowd, wary of ‘new’ teaching and suspicious of the visiting preacher that brings it.  Does this make me a skeptic? Maybe so.  And likely in some areas it’s true.  We all hang on pretty dearly to our most cherished values and it becomes hard to see beyond our blind spots without a third-party view.  It’s good to get an outside opinion and to pay close attention when things/people offend our sensibilities…

But I am also a believer.  I believe in things that have proven true.  I prize the Word of God as the ultimate test of truth.  I love turning its pages, comparing Scripture with Scripture, digging for context and meaning, making notes and reading, reading, reading– knowing I can rely on the Spirit to teach me from its pages.

[I may as well put in a plug for my favorite Bible study tool while I’m at it:  BLUELETTERBIBLE.org.  Never has Bible study been so easy.  In an easy to intuit format that comes with a tutorial if you like, multiple versions, concordances, cross-references and commentaries wait at your fingertips.  Audio and print messages are easily accessible for any given verse or passage. God’s gifts to the Church:  preachers and teachers, modern and long-gone-to-glory, still speak. Read Luther for yourself, or Spurgeon, or R.A.Torrey.  Or sample audio messages from more contemporary preachers. Once you get started you won’t want to quit. It’s wonderful!]

But I was saying…I don’t like being thought of as a skeptic. I would prefer to be known as a lover of truth, a discerning believer, a student of the Word.  But each of these labels has also come into disrepute to some degree by those who protest: We don’t need more theology! We need action! (Or: ‘obedience’, ‘disciples’, ‘doers’).  I hear these objections increasingly and I see  circles being drawn which suggest that genuine discipleship can exist quite distinctly from diligent study of the Word of God.  “Theologians” are scoffed at as irrelevant.  Bible students as overstuffed notebooks without practical usefulness. And discerning spokesmen for truth are scorned as ‘nay-sayers’.   What is happening? Is the pursuit of Biblical truth really so at odds with fervent discipleship? 

As believers, we long to see God at work in His Church and in our world.  Many sincere godly believers are praying for revival and watching for ‘breakthroughs’, for change, for new life! And it can be tempting to think we just need an action plan. But is this true?  Do we just need to get out and DO something, anything!  (As though our activity will force God’s hand to act.)  Is the malady of the institutionalized church of our day that we’re just not obeying?!  The analysis goes that instead of acting on the Word, believers are preoccupied with hearing, analyzing, affirming, memorizing and categorizing  God’s Word.

An amusing illustration is made of the parent who instructs his child to clean up his room because company’s coming.  The child wanders off to contemplate those words, to memorize them, to translate them into Greek and to mull them over thoroughly, but fails to DO them.  This is said to be the problem of the modern church particularly with respect to the Great Commission.  We’re just not DOING it. The illustration can be made much of.  It can be told with great humor.  But I am not ultimately amused because I think that the premise is false and a hazard to the church.

Fun is obviously being poked at serious students of the Word but I don’t believe this zeal for Bible study characterizes the average believer in the pew. I  have not seen a  problematic epidemic of the reading and study of the Word of God in the modern church! Therefore, I don’t think this casting of blame is accurate.

Now, one could argue that we have possessed the Bible in the West for many years and its influence has faded to a low ebb, failing to produce ardent followers in our times, while droves leave the institutional church in search of something more.  It is true that nominal religiosity has diluted much of western Christianity. But is this because we have been ardent students of the Word and just failed to put it into practice?  Is this your problem?  Is it mine?  I shudder at this mocking of Bible study as though it were a grave problem in the church.  Without knowing the Word of God how will we discern what pleases God?  What will be our yardstick of a ministry?  It looks good?  It sounds good?  It seems right… (Consider Pr.14:12)

I would suggest there is a bigger picture we are missing.  As believers living in a non-Christian culture with an increasingly anti-Christian bent we may well gaze about with a rising sense of alarm.  When was the last new convert you saw? Where is the vital sense of community that characterized the New Testament church?  Are we missing something?  It does seem that the love of many is growing cold and that the church is failing to propagate itself to the rising generation…What are we to do?! Is this even up to us?

Into this vacuum step multiple para-church ministries with solutions that guarantee results.  If you’re looking for signs and wonders, they’re out there.  For a re-enactment of the healing ministry of Jesus? just do this. For increased enthusiasm in the pew, try this video course… But is the solution to get out and DO something?!  Must we formulate a method anyone can follow and then start promoting it with great enthusiasm and just a sprinkling of guilt-inducement?  A one-size-fits-all strategy, is this even Biblical? 

Methods of evangelism have come and gone throughout modern church history– embraced, flogged, and laid aside with limited success. Each has its own twist.  Some have been more grounded in Scripture than others. But what seems to be missing so often, is true converts with an insatiable appetite for the Word of God AND a love for their Savior that compels them to obedience.  The two go hand-in-hand and are two of the most compelling evidences of true conversion–new appetites that lead to transformed actions! “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” II Cor.5:17  Only the Holy Spirit can produce these results.   Man can conjure imitations.  Jannes and Jambres, the magicians that opposed Moses, could do many of the things he did. II Tim.3:8  Scripture forewarns that miracles will be done in Jesus’ name without His sanction or favor and will deceive many Mt.7:22,23.  Paul’s letters are replete with cautions about teachers who will distort the gospel, preach another Christ, and offer another Spirit.  (eg II Cor.11)

How do we discern truth from error?  How do we avoid setting ourselves up for deception without becoming universal nay-sayers and perennial skeptics?  It is crucial that we must monitor our values and expectations.  They will  have a pre-disposing influence on us—whether for truth or for error.

What we most want to hear, to see happen, or to experience will be what we seek. In short, to the extent that our desires are rooted in the temporal, expecting satisfaction in our lifetime, to that extent we can expect to be lured by ‘this lifetime’ guarantees.

Think of it this way, if we are desperate to see God ‘do something’ (dramatic) in our day, if we are insistent that a great revival is just around the corner,  if we are eaten up with discontent over the quality of life we are experiencing and sure there is a quick fix out there for us…these expectations will pre-dispose us to  welcome whatever and whoever seems promising.  We will be more readily deceived by appearances and more open to pursuing unsound teachings when our expectations are rooted in discontent with our present situation and distrust in God’s sovereign purposes in everything.. It is imperative that we ground our expectations in the Word of God or they will lead us into temptation and deception.  Paul warns of times when people will want their ears tickled and seek out teachers who will tell them the things they most want to hear II Tim.4:3Our desires must be constantly in check, even our most ‘spiritual’ desires, to see if they really align with the Word of God. Are we demanding temporal relief that God has not promised?  Do we expect more to happen in our lifetimes than is warranted?  And have we learned the secret of contentment in Christ and what He chooses to provide?

Well, as you can see, I don’t believe the diligent study of the Word of God is at all in conflict with  radical, intentional discipleship.  And I do believe strongly there is a place for critical Biblical analysis of any ministry that claims our attention and seeks to propel us to action, no matter how ardent and  well-intended its agenda.  This is not a role for the skeptic but for the lover of Truth. Love of the truth, even when it disrupts our most cherished values, will protect us from deception.

Could the ardent Bible scholar use some prompting to make sure his/her head knowledge translates into real live discipleship?  Absolutely.  Are there cautions for him/her in the Word of God as well?  Certainly.   More on that next time (hopefully).

We have much to learn from each other in the Body of Christ, lest in our haste to fulfill our individual callings we disparage another’s gifts and calling and miss out on what they have to offer us.  We are after all in this Body together.


But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.…So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  (2Th 2:13-17 ESV)

Jesus: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23

There is one body and one Spirit…one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Eph.4:7 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. I Cor.12:4-7

Clearing Streams…


I’ve been thinking lately of my life as an obstructed streamlet. As a kid our house adjoined a small woods through which a stream trickled carrying run-off from the surrounding farmland to the small lake where we skated in the winter and might catch a fish or two in the summer. Every year leaves would fall and rot and clog the flow of water to the lake.  I appointed myself the task of dragging the leaves and muck away so the water could run freely. In company with my dogs and a stick it was a happy pastime.

Now, at this stage in my life, this lull between stages actually,  I am taking stock of the baggage I’ve hauled around for all these years, both literally and figuratively. I’m not only cleaning out drawers and whole rooms for better utility and greater beauty but I’m looking at long-held habits– ways of thinking, acting and reacting. Habitual burdens that make life heavy and clog my streams. And I am thinking the time is now, if ever they are to be jettisoned—these fears I haven’t challenged and the pride that fuels them. These endless reasons why this or that is not feasible and really not a good idea after all…  I long to be done with them.

What am I waiting for?  Why do we cling to our baggage instead of checking it through to never-never-land!  What would it take to drag all this muck out of the stream so it can run freely.

If I wait till I have ‘ME’ all figured out

my fears, doubts and foibles

ironed out—solved—vanquished

my purpose in life clearly charted and understood….

All questions answered

All uncertainties clarified.

When then will I begin…

to try my hand at the things I am drawn to

to serve in love according to my design


a living sacrifice


imperfect, weak, and ineffectual in glaring ways,

BUT chosen, appointed, useful, and declared ‘just right’

because of Jesus—who died on my behalf

—who lives to intercede for me (and you)

Who infuses my mind with truth,

my heart with desire,

my hands with strength,

that is equal to His purposes for my life.

Not equal to my ideals perhaps,

nor to my envies

nor to my every whim or compulsion

But equal to His calling and intents—

His image overlaid on my uniquely created personhood.

He is prepared to take me ‘as is’,

His servant,

for His own glory.

What am I waiting for?


A scene from my childhood comes back to me now.  I have long had this compulsion to be more dedicated, more holy, more ‘something-I-don’t-seem-to-be’, more pleasing… In this instance I recall I had plunked down with my journal in a quiet place in the wood, not far from that streamlet I had cleared, and I was considering what it would mean  to be a ‘bondservant’. Marked for life, by one’s own choice, as the slave of a cherished Master.  Paul called himself ‘a bondservant of Christ’.  I wanted to be that too.  My reasons may have been more a prideful compulsion to please, than a pure love of my Master.  I remember being sober and fearful to trust Him with my life.  But I wanted to trust.  Little knowing what this would entail in the years still ahead of my young-teen self, I wrote out my commitment in words that day, pledging to be a bondservant of Christ.

And here I am, all these years later, still clearing leaves from streams, still sensing His Spirit beckoning me to trust Him to complete the good work He has started–to make of me all He has designed for me to be. But I find it is He who has done the serving. He who has been committed to me through the thick and the thin of my professed love.  And I know it will be His doing if living water is to flow through my streamlet or burdensome baggage yet be jettisoned from my life.  It is good to be bonded to such a Master!

With living words He woos me to more effectual service:

“Walk by my Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh… Whatever you do, do it as unto me. Abide in me. Walk in my yoke. It’s easy. It’s light….”

He beckons me to lay aside every weight to which sin clings so closely– these weights of expectation. These ‘should’s. These demands for things to be other than they are.  Unbelief and discontent with His provision cling closely to these weights. He calls me to lay them aside and run with endurance the race marked out for ME. (Heb.12:1) Not another’s race, but mine.

To trust God to complete the work he’s begun in us, this is the ‘obedience of faith’.(Rom.16:26) To live in confident hope of a yet-to-be-revealed righteousness, this is our salvation (Gal.5:5).  And for our every need, our every weakness, our every propensity for sin Jesus’ blood intercedes and grants us free access to God’s mercy and His grace. (Heb.4:14ff)  What more do we need?

What pleases God?  Jesus does.  He in me and I in Him,  this is enough. (Jn.15:4) Here may I rest my case, beside the quiet streams…

  1. Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
    Let me hide myself in Thee;
    Let the water and the blood,
    From Thy wounded side which flowed,
    Be of sin the double cure,
    Save from wrath and make me pure.
  2. Not the labor of my hands
    Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
    Could my zeal no respite know,
    Could my tears forever flow,
    All for sin could not atone;
    Thou must save, and Thou alone.
  3. Nothing in my hand I bring,
    Simply to Thy cross I cling;
    Naked, come to Thee for dress;
    Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
    Foul, I to the fountain fly;
    Wash me, Savior, or I die.
  4. While I draw this fleeting breath,
    When my eyes shall close in death,
    When I rise to worlds unknown,
    And behold Thee on Thy throne,
    Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
    Let me hide myself in Thee.

Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778


Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat 11:28-30 KJV)

“… being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phl 1:6 NKJV)

To be an Encourager…

Staring into space was lovely this morning.  The air was cool, the sky blue, the sun brilliant and I was bushed from raking and digging and hauling compost and wrestling with roots and rubbish.  It was a relief to stop, lean on the shovel and stare.  But tonight it is tiresome. I sit before a blank screen staring….scanning the ‘skies’ for gathering clouds of thought, hoping to settle soon on something constructive to write here. Something encouraging.  Life can be so lonely and so… well, un-encouraging, even when it’s not downright DIScouraging.  I’ve been asking myself (and Jim!)  lately, what would it take to become an encourager…

I check my email, consult a writing blog for ideas, write a couple emails, send a text message, make a note about an upcoming event…still no fitting words with which to begin. The screen is blank.  Hmm… I haven’t yet checked Facebook…

How often I have wished for a life coach who knows me better than I know myself and will help me overcome my personal hurdles—including this immobilizing self-doubt. I don’t need someone who will merely cheer me on irrespective of the direction I’m headed.  That almost anyone can do. (And if there’s a cliff ahead, I’d rather be warned!)  No, I need someone who will steer me where I need to go, who will redirect my focus when it’s misplaced or just too compulsively narrow!  Someone who knows me better than I know myself and who has my best interests at heart…Now that’s the Life Coach I need…. but how is that a useful post?  Starting with a discussion of personal deficits is no way to offer encouragement.

Meanwhile, I have checked Facebook.  I’ve seen my daughter’s pictures, read about the down-side of church-supported orphanages, looked at the news in Alaska and Arizona, “liked” more things than I can remember… and still not come to terms with what to write here…

What would it take to become an encourager? I’ve been pondering these things. One thing is obvious, it will require looking beyond myself and my perceived needs–lifting my head from navel-gazing and noticing that others may perhaps need encouragement at least as much as I.  Likely none of us is immune to the need for encouragement, or Scripture wouldn’t make such a point of calling us to it: But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Heb.3:13  We get so easily ‘stuck’ in our own mire  with little perceived strength to lift another.  Perhaps that’s why we’re cautioned to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:4) !  It will rescue us from impotent self-absorption.

Also, to truly encourage we have to have something to offer, lest in extending a hand or opening our mouths we merely add insult to injury or fuel the fears that were already gaining ground.  I did that earlier this week. In my eagerness to warn, I shared my own story of mishap but failed to include the grace part—the way God came to my rescue.  In choosing to focus on the really scary part, the part about me! I left off the most important part of the story.  Encouragement will ultimately always point to Somebody bigger than ourselves as the Hero who will save the day. It will be by His strength that we are enabled to lend a hand or speak a word, not our own self-seeking impulses.

Another trait of an encourager is long-range vision.  I have to see the potential in you before I’m going to be able to coach you to reach for it. I have to believe firmly in God’s design and calling for you if I’m to spur you on to the love and good deeds He’s custom-made for you to walk in.  Seeing ahead and believing what could be is not my strong suit.  (Remember I don’t even play cards! haha) I have need of such hope in the yet unseen.  I marvel at what a good coach can accomplish, or rather what a coach can goad his team to do, all because he believes they can do it.  It’s amazing.

But as my beloved coach pointed out to me this morning, the greatest need of a real encourager is love.  Not the casual mushy gushy “I love you all” tossed out to an unknown audience, but a love that is committed to your success and willing to sacrifice himself to help you achieve it.  Love is not threatened by or envious of another’s success but rejoices selflessly.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things—pretty ideal qualities for an encourager!  But what would it take to become such a person?

Ironically, the answer is in the word itself.  To ‘encourage’ is variously translated in Scripture: to beseech, comfort, exhort, being the primary terms used.  But the underlying root means ‘to call to one’s side’ (in order to) console, encourage, strengthen.  And it is the very same term used to describe the Holy Spirit, our ‘Comforter’.  He is the One sent to come along side us to encourage, strengthen and be with us forever (Jn.14:16). He is the One who will remind us of what Jesus has said and teach us all we need to learn (Jn.14:26), the One who lives to make intercession for us (Rom.8:26), the One through whom God’s love is poured into our hearts (Rom.5:5).  This Encourager is the One who reminds us that we are God’s own children and can cry out to Him as our ‘Daddy’ (Rom.8:15)…  Surely this is enough for any of us to become an encourager. And by faith I say Amen, so be it!

And I’m counting on you who read here to keep pointing me to the One who is my sufficiency, and yours, for all things.  I need that reminder, often!  Thanks for coming along on my journey to grace.


P1120550And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (II Cor.9:8)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Heb.10:23-25

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. II Cor.1:3,4

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.


Some definitions:

Encourage:  to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence

Discouraging: depriving of confidence or hope or enthusiasm and hence often deterring action

A Care Label worth reading

Have you ever stared at a Care Label in dismay at all those cryptic symbols–that tidy row of do’s and don’ts, all laid out in code?

Every vehicle, appliance, gadget and piece of clothing comes with instructions for its rightful use and care and a profusion of don’ts and warnings for the user unaware:  Don’t submerge in water. Don’t drive drunk. Keep out of reach of children.  Don’t bleach.

But this sign I saw recently on a hydraulic scissor lift takes the cake!image

Is there anything you can legitimately do with this device?

Christianity in a past era particularly was often seen as a religion of DON’Ts. In an effort not to be ‘worldly’ some groups established long lists of do’s and especially don’ts.   I grew up in such a sect.  Many were the rules, mostly unspoken,  associated with holiness. They would at least mark the user as holier than the rest of Christendom’s worldly folks! We were the ‘faithful few’.  We kept the rules. Sanctification was seen as do-able, or more accurately, as achievable if you didn’t do a number of things.

For instance, playing cards with real ‘playing cards’ was taboo. (Somehow ‘fake’ cards like Crazy Eights and Fish and Old Maid were ok, at least in our house.) Going to movies was frowned upon so that the debut of The Hiding Place caused great struggles of conscience. Dancing and drinking were completely shunned and wearing jewelry and make-up, suspect.  Though not explicitly stated, it did seem more saintly to avoid looking stylish, cutting your hair or wearing pants.  And it was the ideal in the generations before mine to wear a dark navy uniform.  This even included the bride at her own wedding!  as though to be beautiful, even attractive, was at odds with being holy.

This sort of rule-making and keeping was well intended– thought to be an aid toward attaining holiness and maintaining separation from the world. The unforeseen effects were often pride and an odious self-righteousness which proved to be ‘of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.’ Col.2:23  It isn’t my intent here to mock these practices but only to point out how their application  has distorted my own concepts of holiness and the process of sanctification, which to this day are under reconstruction. [That is not so say that there were not many truly godly people modeling a genuine faith to me within the constraints of this strict system. My own precious kith and kin were among them and I truly do treasure my unique God-given heritage.]

That being said I welcome reminders that the process of sanctification isn’t a row of DON’T symbols dependent on my diligence,  but a walking in dependence on the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in my heart. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal.5:16)

I’ve been studying I Thessalonians today.  Sanctification is a recurring theme, as is Jesus’ Second Coming.  The two go together really.  The hope of the One assures the ongoing process of the other until the day we will be presented blameless before our Saviour.

I am struck by the succinctness of Paul’s concluding instructions—a compact set of DO’s and DON’Ts that if followed will,
I suspect, accomplish our sanctification quite nicely.

And if followed they will definitely set us apart from the world.  Imagine it:

Rejoice Always. The world knows nothing like this, having nothing so unchanging as our Lord to guarantee sustainable joy!

Pray without ceasing.  “The way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing. We should rejoice more if we prayed more” –Matthew Henry

Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  This kind of gratitude will test and strengthen our trust in God’s sovereign care and provision.  If He has arranged all the circumstances of our lives for our good and His glory, how can we complain?

And tacked onto these, an essential DO NOT, essential because this is the source of our ability to rejoice, to pray and to give thanks:
Do not quench the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit within us not only makes us holy but is interceding for us according to God’s will (Romans 8:27). How reassuring is that!  No wonder we are told not to silence His voice by our own obstinate refusal to listen.(Cf.Heb.4:7)

And a wise caution: Do not despise prophecies but test everything. Hold fast what is good.  Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians has been strewn with prophecy—a warning to expect suffering, a ‘heads-up’ about the Lord’s coming, and instructions on how to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.  We are of all people most fortunate to have the living and abiding Words of God at our disposal.  They are essential to our sanctification!

And lastly, Abstain from every form of evil. May we cultivate appetites for what is truly good and recognize that holiness is far more beautiful and desirable than evil’s fleeting allure can ever be.

Now best of all the wonderful paradox with which Paul closes:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (I Th.5:23,24)

Our sanctification is ultimately God’s business.  He calls us to it and oversees its completion in us.  We have only to take note of the Care Label’s instructions:

Rejoice always,
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in all circumstances
for THIS is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Don’t quench the Spirit
Don’t despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
Abstain from every form of evil.
I Thess.5:16-22


Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory… not in the passion of lust like [those] who do not know God ….For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. ( I Thess.2:12; 4:5,7,8)

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. (Rom.8:27)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit…(5:16-19)