Abound in Hope

Lately things have been rough at work; I’ve been cringing when my phone signals a new email, suspecting bad news or a political trap to sort through. I fight the sense of worry, anxiety, but emotions are hard to control. They reveal beliefs in the context of life; by observing our feelings we can tell what we really believe; they reveal our faith.

I’ve not been filled with joy; I’ve not been abounding in hope; so, I’ve been living in denial of God’s faithfulness, that whatever happens will turn out for my good and God’s glory. (Ro 8:28) I’ve had no peace, no rest in my spirit (Php 4:6-7), struggling with fear, not trusting. This isn’t where I’m supposed to live (He 13:5-6); it’s contrary to the gospel. (Ga 2:14)

But the God of hope calls me, to fill me with all joy and peace in believing, that I may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Ro 15:13) There is then a connection between abounding in hope, and believing God unto joy and peace.

It’s not that I will never suffer or be in trouble (2Co 1:8); I’m to believe the world is unable to harm me spiritually; nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Ro 8:38-39); no matter what comes I will always be more than a conqueror through the grace of God. (Ro 8:37) 

I will overcome (1Jn 5:4), because Christ overcame (Jn 16:33), and He will do so again in me. (Col 1:27) This is all the hope I need: in the end, I will be found a good and faithful servant. (Mt 25:23)

I believe God will help me live for Him; He will work in me to seek His face until my dying day (Jud 24) … for this is what He’s always been about in me. It’s His work (1Co 1:30), and He will continue to perform it until the day of Christ. (Php 1:6) Of this I am confident … I believe … and the truth of His Word is producing hope in me, even as I write it out.

How about you? Are you abounding in hope? To continue building up our faith (Jud 1:20-21) is to find more and more hope, to the anchoring of our souls (He 6:19) … ’till we’re abounding in hope through the power of God.

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The Voice of Strangers

God’s people hear His voice and follow Him (Jn 10:27), but do we also hear other voices which are not of God? If so, how do we tell the difference?

To be clear, we aren’t referring to an audible voice, but to an inner sense or witness in our spirit that God’s trying to guide us or teach us something. Thinking the enemy can’t try to imitate God like this underestimates him, and implies any kind of impression or leading we receive must be from God.

But Jesus taught that other spiritual beings will also be speaking to us, trying to get us to follow them, and that we’ll know the difference instinctively. (Jn 10:5) But if we’re desperate to hear a “word from God,” we might override our instincts and fall pray to the enemy’s leading.

So, how do we know?

Simple, just like Jesus explained: if we don’t instinctively know God is speaking with us, then He isn’t. If we’re able to wonder if it might be God, or ask, “Who are you?” then we don’t know it’s God and we should flee: ignore the impression, or voice, or leading, or whatever it is. We don’t need it, and we shouldn’t be looking for it.

If we need clear direction from God we should ask in faith for wisdom (Ja 1:5); seeking counsel from others and the Word, and then walk it out using all the wisdom we have, trusting He’s working out His will in us. (Php 2:13)

If we need direct revelation, God will speak to us clearly, and there will be no doubt about it. Satan comes as an angel of light to deceive (2Co 11:14), but the voice of God is unmistakable, let’s not settle for a counterfeit.

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The Pride of Life

Pride is esteeming ourselves above others, hence more important and significant. It often appears in a moral context, where we believe we’re not as bad as someone else, judging the moral condition of another’s heart; something God forbids.

Attributing significance or value to a human being is something only God can do, and He’s already attributed infinite value and significance to every one of us: God so loves us that He’s willing to die, to lay down His own life, for every human soul. Every time we rank each other in importance we dismiss God’s heart, trampling Him underfoot.

And we’re doing this nearly constantly, imposing our broken little value systems, or cowing to others in theirs, while God looks down in grief, sorrow, and anger. If we’re not seeking His face, we’re entirely unaware, heedless of the wrath we’re treasuring up for ourselves. (Ro 2:5)

The love of God is what makes pride so incredibly awful, and moves God to such fury as we disvalue those He loves. He hates the very traces of pride in our faces (Pr 6:16); it’s right up there with murder.

Yet when most of us focus on God’s love, I’m afraid that we’re only thinking of His love for us, and not for everyone else. Rather than comforting us, the fact that we’re so deeply and thoughtlessly contrary to His passion for us all should terrify us. (2Co 5:11)

The pride of life isn’t of the Father; it’s of the world (1Jn 2:16), and it’s wickedness. (1Jn 5:19) He tells us to humble ourselves, to esteem others better than ourselves, so He will not have to oppose us, and He can give us grace.

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Things that are Excellent

What we approve reflects who and what we are. This is more than weeding out explicitly sinful things, not only the appearance of black amongst the shades of gray, but also anything that smacks of impurity, of dullness in spirit, mind or body, of mediocrity … approving only what’s excellent. (Php 1:10)

Holiness cannot accommodate impurity within. (Ep 4:27) We’re to be adding virtue to our faith (2Pe 1:5); thinking we can behave inconsistently from time to time, making excuses for ourselves, is to rob ourselves of virtue, of excellence.

We become what we behold (2Co 3:18): His excellency is excellent in every conceivable way. Perhaps it is only in feeding in the majesty, in pursuing His excellence that we learn to recognize the mediocrity within and about us, and to despise it as beneath the image of God.

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Superfluity of Naughtiness

Once God has begotten us by His word (Ja 1:18), He tells us to “lay apart all filthiness,” moral uncleanness, and “superfluity of naughtiness.” (Ja 1:21a)

My dad and me

An overflow of badness spills out when we’re wanton, living without discipline or concern for holiness. Rather, we’re to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls.” (Ja 1:21b)

Living carefully, soberly, working out our own deliverance with fear and trembling (Php 2:12), trying our best (2Pe 1:5), no matter how bad our best is, it’s simply common sense, once we’ve chosen the fear of God.

There’s no pretending we’re good, in ourselves (Ga 6:3); even on our best day (Is 6:5) we’re abominable and filthy, guzzling down iniquity like water. (Job 15:16)

But even so, there’s no giving ourselves over to sin on purpose, presumptuously(Ps 19:13), Give it no place (Ep 4:27), no quarter (De 17:2,5); lay it all aside, everything you can that isn’t Christ (Php 1:21), and then ask Him to take what’s left. (Ps 119:29)

Let’s cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2Co 7:1). Without holiness, no one will see God. (He 12:14)

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Goodness and Severity

God is awesome in every respect; He’s extreme, infinite in every facet of His being. Everything He is and does should move us to worship.

If we prefer to focus on some particular part of God, rather than taking the whole of Him, we find imbalance, a false god. He is love, most certainly (1Jn 4:8), but He’s also light (1Jn 1:5), even a consuming fire (He 12:29), a terror to all who live in sin, to be feared by us all. (Php 2:12)

God calls us to behold His goodness and severity together (Ro 11:22), to be awed in both Heaven and Hell at once. (Re 15:3) We’re to glory in His kindness (Lk 6:35) as well as His justice, vengeance and fury. (Re 18:20)

It’s only in seeking God in all His attributes at once, where they converge in fullness and glory, that we discover Him. As we take in all of God honestly, delighting in all His ways, drinking in everything about Him without bias, preference or reservation, we’re sanctified, changed, transformed more and more into His likeness by His Spirit. (2Co 3:18)

Behold the beauty in God’s grace (Ep 1:6) and mercy as He redeems sinful Man and makes us His own (1Jn 3:1), yet also feed in the majesty of His wrath as He tramples His enemies underfoot. (Is 63:3)

Rejoicing in all the attributes of God, glorying in everything about Him (2Co 10:17), is seeing Him as He is (1Jn 3:2), and not as we wish for Him to be. (Ro 1:23) This, and nothing less, is receiving Him, which is in itself the work of God. (Jn 1:12-13)

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Honor and Glory

God is honorable, worthy of great respect and esteem. (Re 4:11). All in heaven honor Him (Re 19:7); how might we do so here on Earth?

A primary way we honor God is by believing Him, taking Him at His word, acting as if everything He says is true, trusting Him. We call it faith. Anything else is calling Him a liar (1Jn 5:10); certainly not honoring to Him.

Obeying God honors Him by acknowledging His right to order our lives, to require right behavior of us, which is itself honorable. (Ro 2:10) Disobeying Him flaunts His authority and majesty, rejects His lordship and moves Him to wrath and indignation towards us. (Rom 2:8)

Treating our own selves with dignity, honoring all as God’s children, also honors Him, for we’re made in His image. (1Th 4:4-5) Purging all dishonorable activity and influences from our lives suits us for His service. (2Ti 2:21)

It is also honoring to God to suffer in hope (Ro 5:3), knowing He’s working all things for our good (Ro 8:28), and that He will be glorified in the end. (1Pe 1:7)

A more subtle way in which we might honor our God is by acknowledging His goodness, giving Him the benefit of the doubt, as we’re laying the practical foundations of spiritual life. For example, the Bible says God inspired scripture (2Ti 3:16); in accepting this we know the autographs, the original Greek or Hebrew manuscripts, were inspired by God.

Yet the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us whether any copies or translations of the autographs also contain this inspired property, so we must make an assumption about that: either God did preserve His Word for us in an inspired form, so that we can access a modern version of the scriptures today, in a common language, one that’s equivalent to the originals for all practical purposes, or He didn’t.

Which assumption honors Him? Gives Him the benefit of the doubt? Shall we assume God inspired His word for no practical reason, such that no one has ever actually benefited from this special quality? Shall we act as if no one has ever held a perfectly trustworthy Bible in their hands, one they could call the authentic word of God? Or shall we assume that God inspired His word for a purpose (2Ti 3:17), and that He is fulfilling that purpose, and act accordingly?

Most of us assume He didn’t, and assume inspiration is confined to the autographs, in a perfectly useless place. We’re encouraged to depend on pastors, teachers and theologians to reveal scripture to us. We don’t think we have access to the Word of God today, so we don’t tend to hide scripture in our hearts and meditate on it day and night, like God tells us to. (De 6:6) It’s hard enough to do this with a text we trust, so most of us have given up before we even start. But is this honoring to God?

Wouldn’t it honor God more if we expected Him to act with integrity, with intention? Being Who He is, faithful and true (Re 19:11), wouldn’t He enable our journey with an inspired version of His word in a modern language, a book we can read and understand for ourselves, to feed and guide us safely home, seeing that’s why He gave us the scripture in the first place? If we acted like He did, would we expect this to please Him, or disappoint Him?

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The Month of Abib

In keeping Passover (1Co 5:8) JEHOVAH tells us to observe the month in which it occurs as the the first one, the start of a new year (Ex 12:2); He calls it Abib (De 16:1), from a word meaning tender or green, in reference to unripened grain.

One obvious way to observe this month is to note we’re required to find a spotless lamb (Ex 12:5), so we’re to be observing lambs, noting blemishes and defects, looking for that perfect specimen.

On the tenth of Abib we must choose a spotless lamb and set it apart, keeping it four days and identifying ourselves with it, then killing it (Ex 12:6) unto JEHOVAH (De 16:2) and consuming it. (Ex 12:8) Our particular sacrificial lamb is to become part of us forever.

As in each of JEHOVAH’s feasts, here again we have a picture of how we discover Jesus Christ and make Him part of our lives: searching Him out, that perfect specimen of humanity, considering Him and comparing Him with others. Finding Him flawless and divine, we receive Him into our midst (Jn 1:12), studying Him and centering our lives around Him. (1Pe 2:21) Then we see Him on God’s altar becoming our sin (2Co 5:21) and taking it away (Jn 1:29), and trusting Him to reconcile us to God (2Co 5:19) we enter into His rest (He 4:10), identifying with Him and becoming one with Him. (Jn 17:21)

Each Spring in the month of Abib, as new life springs forth in the fields and flocks, we consider anew our Savior (He 3:1), pondering the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ (Ep 3:8), feeding in the majestyremembering the day He became our Passover (1Co 5:7), the day JEHOVAH delivered us from the kingdom of this world. (De 16:3)

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Holy and Unholy

I travel a lot for work: Poland, Mexico, China, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, India … all over the world. Everywhere I go I’m careful what I eat; pork and shellfish are standard fare most places, and often comprise the bulk of the menu. I seldom order salad without specifying “no bacon,” and when language is an issue it’s extra challenging. There’s a constant striving, an alertness required to eat according to God’s pattern, but as I delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) I see an important spiritual lesson in it.

Trevor Rees: Long clawed squat lobster

In calling us to put away all uncleanness, God gave us laws describing unclean animals to train us in the habit of discerning what we take in, both physically and spiritually. (Lev 20:25) He is concerned about our health and knows we live in a polluted, broken world. He wants us to test everything that’s presented to us as food, for both body and soul, and do our best to ensure it passes the litmus test of His Word. (Is 8:20)

What this seems to mean is that we are to be constantly evaluating any and all spiritual teaching that is offered to us, checking the Scripture to see if it is so. (Ac 17:11) When verses are taken out of context or faulty reasoning is applied, we’re to recognize it, call it out and reject it. (Ps 119:104) Failing to do so permits lies into our lives which defile and weaken our souls and spirits, giving the enemy access (2Ti 2:25-26) to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10)

Additionally, we should be comparing all of our own thoughts and motives with God’s Word (Ps 119:113), identifying as unclean anything within us that’s contrary to His Way. (Ps 19:14) This seems consistent with God’s call to gird up the loins of our mind (1Pe 1:13), to be circumspect, sober and vigilant (1Pe 5:8) in following after holiness(He 12:14)

We’re each accountable to God for what we believe and do (Ro 14:11-12), for every idle word we speak (Mt 12:36); we each bear our own burden before Him. (Ga 6:4) No one else can watch our spiritual diet for us; let’s enjoy and leverage God’s training plan so that we can differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean clean. (Le 10:10)

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I Follow After

Saints are not content to stagnate in their walk with God; we’re dissatisfied in ourselves, ever aware of our imperfections (1Jn 1:8), always pushing forward, pursuing Him, following after Him to be more like Him, ever closer to Him. (Php 3:12)

Pursuing Christ means taking heed to our ways, being aware of our spiritual health and maintaining a constant goal to be more and more like Christ (1Pe 2:21), putting Him on (Ep 4:24), pretending in some further way to be like Him (1Pe 2:21), to walk as He walked. (1Jn 2:6)

It means to abide in Him (1Jn 2:28), to walk worthy of Him (Col 1:10), to walk in the light, in fellowship with Him. (1Jn 1:7)

It means to intentionally focus on the nature of Christ, rejoicing in Him, feeding in His majesty, and meditating on the precious promises which enable us to be partakers of His divine nature. (2Pe 1:4) As we behold Him He transforms us into His image, from one stage of holiness to another. (2Co 3:18) Every bit of Christ we can find, every step we take towards Him, is a treasure.

This is a journey no one else can take for us, a race we must run for ourselves; we are each accountable to God for our walk with Him; we must ponder the path and pursue Him for ourselves. Yet we must not isolate ourselves from community in our striving after Christ, for He is in our brothers and sisters, and can even reveal Himself through those outside the faith. He is above all, through all, and in us all. (Ep 4:6)

It might be frustrating if we focus too much on ourselves, trying to do this on our own. But our delight is that Christ is not only Who we pursue, but also How we pursue; He Himself is the Way we follow and the Life that quickens us to go. (Jn 14:6) He enables our pursuit as His grace reigns through righteousness in us. (Ro 5:21) When our eyes are on Jesus like they’re supposed to be (He 12:2), it’s a privilege to pursue Him.

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