The Root of the Problem

 They tested God in their heart
    by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
    “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
He struck the rock so that water gushed out
    and streams overflowed.
Can He also give bread
    or provide meat for His people?”
(Psalm 78:18-20)

When we look at the history of Israel–how God chose them, delivered them, and set them apart for Himself–it seems that the nation really had it all. The people had seen God’s wonders in Egypt. They continued to see Him provide for them in the wilderness. They saw His mercy and grace in the midst of their disobedience. Yet, they continued to turn away from Him, finding other ways to satisfy their cravings.

Sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it?

Let’s be honest for a moment–at least the moments that it takes you to read this. When we are alone with our own thoughts, we often have this nagging thought that perhaps we aren’t doing as well as we would like to think or project to others. We’re not sure what the real problem is, but we suspect there’s one under there somewhere.

Sure, we’ve learned to curb those obvious outward behaviors. We are nice, respectable, helpful, maybe even kind. Underneath all that, though, we wonder about our motives. We wonder why our life is not better. Why isn’t God answering the prayers that we desperately–I mean humbly–pray? We easily proclaim that He is good, we trust Him, we surrender to Him–at least in the good times.

Could it be that we really don’t trust Him or believe that He’s as good as He says?

That was definitely the problem in Israel’s case. The Psalmist here tell us, “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.” Let’s take a look at that. First, they “tested” God in their heart. The Hebrew word here signifies asking for proof. In the same way, the Jews in Jesus’ day continually asked Him for a sign to “prove” His authority.

The only reason I need “proof” is that I have serious doubts.

Ever since the Garden, humankind has believed this root-level lie: God is not as good as He claims. That’s the lie that Eve fell victim to. “Eve, there’s something good for you on that tree and God doesn’t want you to have it. Therefore, He must not be good.” The Bible does say that the tree was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). The truth is, however, that God knew (and knows) what’s best.

Adam believed a similar lie. Now, imagine this: Eve comes to her husband, and she has this piece of fruit from the tree. The one God said was off-limits. She starts telling him about the serpent and the conversation and how good the fruit was! Now, Adam is standing there with a wife who has been disobedient to God.

He hadn’t prepared for this.

Now Adam has to decide what to do. We humans hate confusion. We want to know what we should do so our plans will go as we want. No doubt Adam was confused. As I see it, he had three basic options:

  1. He could have separated himself from her. But “this is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It would have been like tearing himself apart (a good reminder about marriage, but that’s for another post).
  2. He could have counseled her and assured her of God’s goodness, and led her to God and a place of repentance. What might have happened if he had?
  3. He could have, and did, eat of the fruit, thus joining in her disobedience.

It’s interesting to notice in Gen. 3:7 that “both of their eyes were opened” only after “her husband . . . ate” (v. 6). He did have a choice, and his choice had consequences for him, his wife, and others (another good reminder for marriage, but again, that’s another post).

Now, why did he choose the third option? Based on what we know about human nature and its hostility to God, I believe he did so because he fell victim to the same lie: God is not good. And he had an even stronger case: God, you didn’t prepare me for what to do in this case! How can you call Yourself good when you don’t give me what I need?

Adam’s subsequent actions and responses tell the story of his belief. What was the first thing he and Eve did? They hid from God. Why? Because He’s not good, and He won’t understand why we had to do what we did. When questioned, Adam blamed the woman–and God. “This woman that You gave me . . .”

If we are ever going to be able to truly walk with Christ as He desires us to, we will have to learn that God is good. Not in the academic sense of “learn,” but in the real-world way. And it starts by going past the barriers we have put up and admitting to ourselves our fear that maybe God isn’t as good as He claims.

Once we come to that place, though, we are in a good place. Because then (and only then) can we really learn just how good He is.


Conversations with Jesus: One Confused Guy (Part 1)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:1-8)

What might it have been like to have a conversation with Jesus? Can you imagine going over to the house Jesus is staying to have a chat with Him? One guy named Nicodemus found out. His conversation with Jesus is one of the most well-known events  in the New Testament, if not the whole Bible.


This scene occurs right after Jesus attends Passover (John 2:13-25). At end of chapter 2, we read:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (v. 23).

The phrase “believed in His name” is a key theme in John’s gospel. John tells us that the people saw the signs that Jesus was doing (though here he is not specific) and believed in Hm. What specifically they believed is not certain, however, as we see people who “believed” in Jesus begin to argue with Him and deny His teachings.

We know little about Nicodemus. We know he was a member of Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. We know he was a Pharisee. We also know he became a disciple of Jesus. John calls him a secret disciple, and his cautious defense of Jesus in John 7 show a man who was deeply impacted by this encounter. In connection with this, much has been made of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night. As a member of the Sanhedrin and an important teacher, Nicodemus would have been busy during the day. We should avoid ascribing motives to him when the text is unclear.

The Opening Observation

Nicodemus opens the discussion with an observation:

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him (v. 2).

He starts by calling Jesus “Rabbi,” a courteous expression of respect, meaning “Teacher.” Throughout the brief dialog, there is no hint of disrespect in Nicodemus, though there is obvious confusion. The use of “we” in v. 2 suggests that he is linking himself to the people who believed in Jesus’ name” as a result of the signs they had seen (2:23). He acknowledges at least that Christ is a “teacher come from God,” and he, like the people, bases his conclusion on the fact that no one could do such things apart from God (v.2).

So, Nicodemus makes what most people would consider a fair observation. He’s polite, respectful, acknowledges that Jesus is a Godly teacher. Then we read Jesus’ reply:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (v. 3)

What was that, Jesus? Can’t you see Nicodemus scratching his head trying to figure out exactly what Jesus is trying to say? But if we look back at this brief exchange, perhaps the statement is not as cryptic as it seems. Nicodemus has already admitted that Jesus is come from God as teacher. He’s got incomplete belief, and his belief, like much of the people, is at the level of mental or intellectual assent: “Yes, I believe Jesus is come from God. Yes, I believe Hawaiian pizza is the best pizza ever.”

In that light, Jesus’ reply would seem to say, “Nicodemus, if you want to see the kingdom of God, mental assent is not enough. There must be a fundamental change in your nature, through the new birth.”

A Clarifying Question

Ever the Pharisee-lawyer, Nicodemus takes Jesus’ words at face value—literally. It’s clear he is confused. So, he kind of scoffs at the idea by asking,

How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born (v. 5)?

Jesus then proceeds to elaborate on His previous statement. He says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Now, let’s stop right there for a moment. Many are confused by this verse. Is Jesus teaching, as some believe, that baptism in water is necessary for salvation? Taking into account the whole of the New Testament teaching on salvation, that position is untenable.

What, then, does Jesus mean by the statement? In the whole passage of John 3:3-9, it is clear Jesus is talking about a spiritual birth (otherwise, Nicodemus would not be so confused). Therefore, v. 5 must be taken with the context in mind. The key to the verse is found in the word translated “and.” The Greek word for this is kai, which is often just a connective word. However, in many instances it can (and should) be translated by “even” or “indeed.” Translated this way, the verse would read, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water, even [or indeed] the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The interpretation of this then is that Jesus is using an earthly symbol (water), something Nicodemus would understand, to represent a spiritual concept or entity (the Holy Spirit).

Another example of this is found in verse 8, where Jesus compares the new birth (those born in the Spirit) to the blowing of the wind. We cannot see the wind, only the results of it blowing. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit change a person on the inside, but we can see the results of the new birth. One obvious conclusion to be drawn from this passage is that one who has been born again will experience change, as 1 John makes clear.

Nicodemus still has one final question to ask and we will look at that next week in Part 2 of this interview with Jesus.

Takeaways from This Passage

There are two primary ideas that we should take from this passage. First, mental assent is not the same thing as biblical faith. Biblical faith goes far beyond that, causing us to trust our very lives to God and His goodness. Second, it’s not enough to see Jesus as a great teacher (and He certainly is the best of any teacher). That is really the root problem that Nicodemus had. His eyes were blinded to the truth about Jesus, and thus he couldn’t understand the deep spiritual truth of which Jesus was speaking. Next week, we’ll see this interview come to a climax—and a close—with Jesus revealing Himself to Nicodemus.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

On Rebuilding: Adversaries Among Us

In the previous post (“On Rebuilding: Starting from the Ground Up”), we saw how Ezra and the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple—the centerpiece of all Israel. We mentioned that this is not unlike our own struggles to rebuild our lives, especially after things happen that rip life apart. We further mentioned that any such rebuilding must start by rebuilding the altar—turning our heart toward the Lord. We are so prone to run from Him, to try and manage life on our own that we have to turn back to Him for our rebuilding to be successful. What happens, then, after we have done that?

Continuing with the story of Ezra and the rebuilding of the temple, we come to these words:

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here” (Ezra 4:1-2).

Now, notice two things that the text says about these people. First, they were adversaries of Judah and Benjamin. They were enemies of Israel. But secondly, notice that they claimed to worship Yahweh. They said, “Hey, we’re on your side. Let us help you.” Yet, the text identifies them as adversaries, and apparently the Jews recognized them as such. So, the replied,

“You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us” (v. 3).

In this age of tolerance and ecumenism, that reply seems awfully harsh and close-minded. Aren’t we supposed to admit we need help and allow others to help us? Indeed we are. But the adversaries of God’s people are not here to help us. They come to distract us from what we are to be about. And they will use any tactics at their disposal.

We Come in Peace

First, the adversaries came in supposed peace. They acted like, “We’re one of you. We worship your God.” The wanted to get in the midst of the work to slow it down. This is often how Satan works today. People, even “good” people, come into our lives when we start on our journey of rebuilding. They want to help us. Maybe they even claim the name of Christ. Yet, they are put into our lives to distract us from the real work that needs to be done. They might suggest ways for us to cope with life, mask our pain or “just get on with life.” Perhaps they are so encouraging that they say, “You deserve so much better. You need to start living for your hopes and dreams.” The true helpers, however, who are sent by the Lord will always direct us back to Christ and the cross. Not ourselves, not other people. Christ.

Change in Tactics

Having failed to insinuate themselves into the rebuilding, the adversaries now changed their approach. We read,

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (vv. 4-5).

What did the adversaries do? They sought to discourage the exiles from their purpose. They bribed people to speak discouragement. In the same way, when we are rebuilding our lives, we’ll see those people who sought to be part of the work begin to discourage us. Perhaps they direct us to a “bribed counselor,” a person that will seem so knowledgeable but who will detour us from the real work of rebuilding and change. This tactic is often less subtle than the first. We hear the discouraging words. You’re just too broken. Nothing you do will ever be good enough. You need more help than your church can provide.

All-Out Assault

Apparently, not even the discouragement worked, for the adversaries decided they needed more extreme measures against the exiles.

“And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (v. 6).

They launched an accusation against the exiles. What was the accusation?

[T]he Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king (vv. 12-15).

First, they called Jerusalem a rebellious and wicked city. Second, they warned the king that if the city were rebuilt, there would be a decline in the royal treasury! The letter suggests that the Jews would not pay any type of tribute, toll, or custom. But see where the real motivation of the adversaries lay? “Because we eat the salt of the king’s palace.” What are they saying? “They are messing with my lifestyle! If the royal treasury suffers, then we’re going to suffer too.”

Do we not see the same thing today, in attacks against Christian people and churches? Are not these attacks the work of the same adversaries? Frustrated when they cannot gain ground in the midst of the rebuilding, they turn to discouragement. When that doesn’t work, they pull out the big guns. They file lawsuits, they accuse the faithful of crimes that will make themselves look like the victim.

The Warning

This post isn’t meant to suggest that the church adopt a spirit of isolationism. Many segments of the church have done that for far too long as it is. Nor is it mean tot strike fear into your heart as you discern whom to allow into your life as you continue the journey of rebuilding and healing.

Rather, the message of these chapters of Ezra is to warn us to be mindful of the people we let into our heart in our season of rebuilding. We need people. We were not designed to go it alone. But we need His people. Not just anyone will do. Our closest friends, counselors and confidants should come from the household of faith. Those people that turn us to Christ and His cross are the people who we should allow to come alongside us as we join in His rebuilding.

On Rebuilding: Starting from the Ground Up

 They shall build up the ancient ruins;
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generation
s (Isa. 61:4).

If we look at the world around us today, we will see so many people in the midst of pain, brokenness, and darkness. Their lives are coming to an end, it seems. The statistics that report the number of people currently on medication for anxiety, depression, and other such problems are frightening. Those statistics are not limited to “the world,” though. The church is beginning to finally come to terms with the numbers of truly hurting people that sit in our pews every Sunday. We are all, in some ways, in a season (a lifetime) of rebuilding–and that includes the author of this post. A group of Jews experienced the same stresses and anxieties when it came to rebuilding their existence over 2,000 years ago.

Lives Ripped Apart

If you recall some history, the nation of Israel had been split in two after Solomon’s rule. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) continued her downhill spiral, and was finally sent into exile in 722 B.C. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) fared somewhat better. Judah did have some leaders who feared the Lord and sought Him. In the end, though, Judah also turned from the Lord and was finally sent into exile in 586 B.C. The Temple was destroyed, the ark was lost, and many of the treasures of the Temple were taken. It seemed that Israel’s history was over–a shining star for a few hundred years, then to fade to black.

The exile, however, would not be permanent. The Lord revealed that the exile would last 70 years, and then He would bring the people back, and they would worship Him. And that’s exactly what happened, as we read in Ezra. Notice the reference to the word of the Lord:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:1-4).

Notice that Cyrus gives credit to the God of Heaven, and then names Him (Yahweh). God used this pagan king–even to the extent that the king recognized the true God–to accomplish His purposes. So, the rebuilding began.

Rebuilding Begins with Turning to God

After gathering all the materials needed, what was the first thing the people did? Rebuild the wall of the city for protection? No. Rebuild the structure of the Temple? No. the first thing that was done was this:

Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God (Ezra 3:2).

The first thing the people did was rebuild the altar of the Lord. Why? In the Old Testament context, “returning to the Lord” meant to get rid of any altars to any other god and offer offerings to the Lord on His altar. It was an act of both repentance and faith (see the post on Toward Christ: Ingredients for Change). The next verse tells us why felt it was important to build the altar first:

They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening (v. 3).

They were afraid of the people in the land. Can you imagine? That was their land, given by God to them. Yet, now they were in foreign territory, it seemed to them–almost like they had been thrown back in time to the period of the Judges. The people in the land were not Jews. They were inhabitants from other places. The Babylonians, Medes, and Persians would often do that. They would take conquered people and disperse them throughout their empire to erase a sense of national identity. Yet the Jews had not forgotten theirs, and God preserved them.

They knew that if they were to accomplish God’s will in the midst of enemies.they must first turn to Him and seek His face. So, they rebuilt the altar and offered the sacrifices of the Lord.

What does this mean for us today? As we mentioned above, we are all in some stage of the rebuilding process. As with the Jews of old, so it is with us. All rebuilding of our lives must start with the Lord. We must turn to Him and “rebuild the altar” first.

What does that mean? We don’t have a physical altar. Instead our altar resides in our heart. Remember that the heart, in biblical thinking, is the center of the being, and the attitudes of the heart direct our behavior. When we are faced with a life that has been ripped apart, we must first see to our altar. Is my heart turned toward the Lord? Do I still believe He is good? Once we have rebuilt our altar–looking to God–then we can begin the task of allowing Him to rebuild and restore our lives. In the end, it is the Lord who does the rebuilding anyway.

The journey of rebuilding can be long, difficult, and painful. And it won’t be complete until the Day that we see Christ face-to-face. But make no mistake: It will happen. If you feel like you are sitting in the midst of ruins today, know that there is hope and healing before the throne of grace.

Next in the Series: Adversaries Among Us

Lost then Found (Luke 15:11-32)

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:11-32).

This story told by Jesus is as familiar to us as any Bible story. It’s safe to say that many who have never read the Bible have encountered references to it. In this week’s #WordForWednesday post, we’ll dive into this passage to see what Jesus intended to teach by it. First, though…

Some Context

As with all of Scripture, we must first start by considering the context. This parable is told along with two others (traditionally titled “Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “Parable of the Lost Coin”). All three of three of them came in answer to a complaint by the Pharisees. Luke tells us,

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them. So He told them this parable (vv. 1-3).

The tax collectors and sinners were wanting to be close to Jesus. Why? Because, in the words of the Pharisees, He received them and even ate with them! The parables, then, become Jesus’ answer to the question, “Why do you do that, Jesus?”

In interpreting the parable of the Prodigal (literally Wasteful) Son, we should notice the similarities in the stories:

  • Each involved something or someone that was lost (sheep, coin, son).
  • In two cases, that which as lost wandered away (sheep and son).
  • In two cases, the owner of that which was lost searched diligently until it was found (sheep, coin).
  • In two of the cases (sheep, coin), Jesus makes almost the same statement: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7, a shortened version appears in v. 10).
  • In all three cases, there was a great celebration when that which was lost was found by the owner.

If we focus on those things that are common to all three stories (statements 1 and 4), we will begin to see the purpose of the stories and avoid using the passages to teach something that was not intended. And if we look at the commonalities that appear in two of the three passages, we find truths that help us in interpreting the third. In fact, reading the first two parables will give us some good ‘lenses’ through which to interpret the third.

The Setup–Lost Sheep and Lost Coin

What do we learn from the first two parables, found in Luke 15:4-10? In each case, a person loses something. Since one is a man and one is a woman, the identity of that person is not an important detail. The point is, they lost something.

The next major point to remember is that they diligently searched for that which was lost. In each case, the owner of the lost item searched diligently. The man left the 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep. The woman swept her house clean. Again, since the details of the search varies from story to story, we can conclude that how they searched is not important. The important point is that they searched.

Third, in both cases the owner of the lost item celebrated when the item was found. They called their friends and neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me! I lost a sheep/coin and I’ve found it!”

Finally, in both cases, Jesus closes with a statement meant to bring home the point. What’s the point of those two parables? The point is There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. The 99 sheep were already found, and thus a celebration is not necessary. Perhaps they too had been lost and found. Likewise, the nine coins were still in the possession of the woman, so she had no need to celebrate that. The reason for the celebrations is that which was lost has been found and restored.

The Son Who Ran Away

Having gotten a framework in which to look at this parable, let’s now begin. First, we should notice that it was the younger son who left his father (v. 12). Is this important? When we look at the parable of the lost sheep as well as Jesus’ comments at the end of the story regarding the older son, it seems to have a bearing. The point is the older son stayed with the father and followed his rules–just as the Pharisees had done.

For whatever reason (we won’t speculate), the younger son decided it was time to be on his own. He knew he had an inheritance coming and he wanted it NOW. He wanted to enjoy pleasure in this life now. He therefore said to Dad, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.”

In the same way, we all were created for an inheritance–an eternal inheritance. Our inheritance is the very presence of God and a relationship with Him. And we, like that son, have turned away from Him, seeking our pleasure in this world instead.

So, he took his inheritance, gathered all his stuff and left. Things were great for awhile (there is, after all, pleasure in sin). The Bible calls his lifestyle “reckless” (v. 13). The Greek is asōtōs, which literally means “wasteful or riotous” (hence the title of the parable in many western versions; we’ll come back to this emphasis in a bit).

Then the money ran out. He was broke. He had nothing, no one, and no place to stay. He found himself in desperate need. So he ended up working as a pig farmer. Now, keep in mind that pigs were unclean to the Jews, which is probably why Jesus put this in there, as He often does. The young man would have been, in his father’s eyes, unclean from contact with pigs.

He got so hungry that he “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (v. 16). All his friends disappeared when the money ran out and the party was over. He had finally reached bottom.

The text says, “He came to himself” (v. 17). He realized where he was, what he had done, and more importantly whose he was. Notice that he thought he knew his father. He expected to be treated as a hired servant. His father was likely a successful man, given the overall picture the story paints.

Notice also his prepared statement of repentance: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (v. 18). He confessed his sin. There’s no “I’m sorry,” only “I sinned, it was wrong.” There’s no doubt he was sorry for his sin–at least to the extent that it didn’t work out for him, though. So, he went home, expecting nothing more than servitude–if he would even be received at all.

In the meantime, his father has been watching and waiting. The sense of the text is that the father was actively watching and looking for the son. Notice that the father saw his son “while he was still a long way off” (v. 20). He ran–not walked–to his son. You can almost picture it as a movie, with two people running toward each other in an open field (but now that’s being a bit dramatic).

His father ran to him because he had compassion. He loved his son. He grabbed him up and embraced him. We can imagine the tears that must have flowed. The son only gets out half his prepared statement: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21). The father accepts the statement but then stops him right there. A servant? Never. He would always be ‘son’ to his father.

The son gets three things: a robe, a ring, and shoes (v. 22). And not just any old robe will do–the text says the best robe was placed upon him. And there’s no reason to believe that the ring and shoes would be anything less as well. The son got much more than he expected or deserved. The father received him, not as a servant, but as he was before–the son (v. 24)

Then they began to throw a party. They killed a calf. No. Not just ‘a calf,’ but the fattened calf (v. 23). The calf that was being prepared for a special occasion. But what occasion could be more special than this? In the words of the father, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

The Older Brother

Now we come to the part of the story that’s often overlooked. The older brother is outside, working in the field as he had doubtless always done. He asks the servants about the commotion and they (joyfully) tell him the news. His reaction? Less than pleased. In fact, the text says he was “angry and refused to go in” (v. 28). So, dad goes out to talk to him. “Come celebrate with us!”

The older son’s anger is directed more at his father, we see, than the younger brother. Notice that his complaint is this:

Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him (vv. 29-30).

The older son says, “You wouldn’t let me throw a mediocre party, yet you gave him the best, who doesn’t even deserve mediocre!!” The father acknowledged the older son’s continued presence. And he reminded the son that “all I have is yours.” You’ll get your inheritance. Notice that he closes with the same statement he said to the servants–yet with a slight difference: “Your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (v. 32). Not only is the younger brother a son, but he is “your brother.”

Takeaways From This Passage

What do we learn from this? What was Jesus trying to tell us. The story of the prodigal son has been taught in many ways, with many different emphases. In many western contexts, the emphasis is on the sin of the son and the “wasteful” living, then his repentance. To be sure, that is an important part of the story, for if he had not left, there wouldn’t have been a return.

Certainly other truths can be gleaned from this passage. We are to repent when we sin. Sin is an attitude of the heart, not just the outward actions (as seen in both the younger and older brother). Sin, while pleasurable for a season will ultimately end in heartbreak and ruin. We often have to come to the end of ourselves before we can truly repent. All of these and others are valid points from the story.

However, when we take this passage with the other two parables (sheep and coin), we begin to see that the thrust of the passage is the great love that the father has. He loved the son so much he gave the son far more than was deserved or expected. He was so grateful to have his son alive and home again.

Likewise, Jesus was telling the Pharisees and scribes, “Look, I eat with sinners and receive them because they need God. They know they need Him. I am giving them the chance to repent. Because all heaven rejoices when a sinner repents.” That, by the way, is true of both the one who is coming to Christ for the first time in salvation and the one who has wandered from His path, though he is a believer. The point of the passage is that the love of the Father is greater than any sin that drives us away from Him. All we need to do is turn toward Him, because He is already running toward us.

Dying of Thirst

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:12-13).

Have you ever stopped and thought about just how foolish we humans can be? Though the passage above was spoken about Israel, is it any less true of the rest of us? Most assuredly not. Before we get into why we are so foolish, let’s talk about one assumed fact in this passage:

Humans are thirsty.

All of us were created with built-in longings and desires. When God created humanity in His image, that included two specific longings:

  • a longing for relationship. (We might also call this a longing for security.) God exists in an Eternal Community. Because humanity was created in His image, we long for relationship–with our creator and with other people. We long to be loved deeply and perfectly and to love in the same way.
  • a longing for impact. (We might also call this a longing for significance or purpose.) God created Adam and Eve with a purpose: To rule over the earth and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:26, 28). We thirst to be a part of the eternal plan, to make a lasting difference in our world.

Since these are God-given longings, man is not condemned for his thirst. Let’s repeat that: It’s okay–even normal–to be thirsty. To be thirsty for those things is to be human. Where, then does the problem lie?

Forsaking the Source

The Lord told Jeremiah why humans are foolish. First, “they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters.” In their search to fill those deep longings, humans turn away from God, the true Satisfier of the soul.

Notice that God calls himself the fountain of living water. Do those words sound familiar? They should. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'” (John 7:38). Jesus links Himself directly to the Father as the Source of that which will quench our thirst.

Why is this a problem? Aren’t there other ways that my longings for relationship and impact can be met? The short answer? No. We don’t have the resources within ourselves to fulfill those longings. Only the Lord Himself can give us true unconditional love and grant us the ability to make an eternal impact on our wold. So, to turn away from Him is like walking through a desert and turning away from the well in the midst of the most beautiful oasis.

Broken Cisterns

Not only do we turn away from the Source of that which will satisfy us most deeply, we start digging around in the sand to make our own cisterns! The Lord told Jeremiah, “[My people have] hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The problem with our cisterns? They are broken. Why? Because we live in a fallen and broken world. No strategies that we set in place will fully give us what we need. We can find some temporary relief, to be sure. We turn to many things, even many “good” things, in our quest to not feel the ache of those unmet longings.

Unmet Longings, You Say?

Because we live in a fallen world, those two fundamental longings–relationship and impact–will never be perfectly fulfilled. “Doesn’t God already love us perfectly?” Yes, of course He does. But we don’t experience that perfect love here. No matter how much love we have experienced from God, there is yet more to come. Our experience of Christ on this earth is by faith, and sin hinders our full experience of Him anyhow. Those longings will remain, at best, imperfectly met until we are finally Home.

To be sure, we can and will experience both relationship and impact here in this life. Yet, while we are here, there will always be that nagging feeling, that ache in our soul, that something is just not right here.

“Gee, that doesn’t sound very encouraging!” At first thought, no, it doesn’t. On second thought, however, feeling that ache gives us the opportunity to, instead of running from the Lord and running to other things and people, turn to Him in dependence and trust. He’s given us a sure Hope that will experience Him fully. And until then, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us while we walk on our journey. And He will give us all we need to experience real true Joy in this life.

Toward Christ: The Areas of Change

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

In our previous post in this series (“Toward Christ: The Ingredients for Change“), we identified how we effect change in our lives–what it means to change. In this final post of the series, we will look at three areas that are at the center of our growth in Christ–and thus are the areas in the most need of change. Because they are so central in the life of a believer, I call them “the keys.”

Key #1: A biblical understanding of who God is

God, being God, is at the center of all that is and all that we do. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. A correct understanding of God is central to our growth.

That may seem like an obvious statement, but many believers struggle with the nature of God. What is God like? Is He a strict judge sitting on the bench waiting for us to mess up? Is He more like a permissive parent, with an attitude like “Boys will be boys”? Is He so big that He is unconcerned with my life? These and others are the questions we must ask and allow the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to teach us.

How we view God is going to influence, in large part, how we view ourselves. The Bible calls us to biblical humility which means 1) thinking of myself as God thinks of me (neither too highly nor too lowly); 2) recognizing that I am what I am only by His grace; and 3) trusting Him with me–all of my life. We cannot truly do any of those without a right view of God.

Because of space, we are not going to launch into a discussion of who God is. Many previous posts in this blog have dealt with the nature and character of God. In this post, we simply want to begin thinking about who we see Him, and ask Him to help bring our views in line with Scripture.

Key #2: A biblical understanding of New Covenant theology

The second key area for change is what actually happens at salvation. Why is this important? It’s important because our view of salvation will directly influence how we behave as believers.

If we see salvation merely as, “My sins are forgiven, I’m going to heaven, yay!” then we might be tempted to adopt a view of, “It doesn’t matter how I live.” On the other hand, we also might adopt the view at the other end of the spectrum, which says that it matters so much how I live that I fall into legalism.

If we see salvation as not only a one-time event but also a process whereby we are changed to become like Christ, then we will begin to learn what that means.

The other part of this question is, “What [if anything] happened to me at salvation?” Am I still the same old person, except that my sins are now forgiven? Or did something fundamentally change about my nature? These are the questions of New Covenant theology.

Like the previous section, we are simply going to give some starting points for reflection and thinking about the New Covenant.

Key #3: A biblical understanding of our identity

Who are we? Are we just tiny specks of dust in this big universe that God created? Are we worthless sinners that deserve nothing but hell? Who are we after we are saved? Did anything significant change about us? Our identity (and more specifically our perception of it) matters a great deal.

Our behavior is governed, in large part, by the beliefs, images, and attitudes that we old about our world, others, God, and more fundamentally ourselves. If I see myself as a worthless slug, chances are I’m going to act like a worthless slug, letting others use me because I just don’t matter. If I see myself called of God and separated to His purpose, then (if I’m walking in faith), I’m going to act accordingly.

This key is last on the list because it’s actually dependent on the other two. We can’t have a right understanding of ourselves if our view of God is incorrect. Nor can we truly understand who we are as redeemed children of God without a right view of salvation and the New Covenant. An understanding of ourselves is not less important than the other concepts, however. It simply works together with them.

How does change come?

Change and growth occur in the life of the believer by identifying the thoughts and attitudes in each of these areas that are incorrect–do not align with biblical truth. As these incorrect thoughts and attitudes are repented of, change begins to occur when the believer turns in faith to Christ, believing His Word, replacing those thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes with correct ones. As he does so, he begins to apply them to his life. This is the command of Paul in both Romans 12:2 and 2 Cor. 10:5. We are to be transformed, becoming like Christ, through the renewing of our mind.

Material in this post is adapted from my book, Keys to the Kingdom: Foundations for Growth and Change, available on the website.

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken (Heb. 12:25-29)

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:25-29).

Almost twenty years ago, on September 11, 2001, the United States–and the world–was changed. We were changed in a way that was shocking. We had thought we were safe, but realized we were not. I remember where I was exactly when I heard the news. I remember then watching the news for days on end. It seemed that America was in a state of confusion.

In truth, many of us still are. Not just because of that horrific event, but because our world has changed. Now we worry about everyone beside us—as if we didn’t have enough to worry about. How are we to respond to such events and such confusion? Without being insensitive, we are going to look at the Bible’s perspective on such events.

God is Speaking

From this week’s passage, we get our first perspective. God speaks in the midst of and through these events. When our personal world is thrust into chaos, when the world around us is thrust into pain, grief, and confusion, God desires to use that darkness to make His voice heard. Verse 25 tells us that God is warning us, and further that we should not refuse or reject that warning.

Now, let’s properly characterize God’s warning. It is not, as some might think, “Get your act together, straighten up, get in church, or you’re gonna be in trouble!” It is rather in the tone of Isaiah:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live
(Isa. 55:1-3a).

The message of this passage? Don’t trust in anything but God. Only God can truly satisfy the deepest longings of the soul.

“You have confusion? I have peace.”

“You have guilt? I have forgiveness and grace.”

“You are thirsty for a true unconditional love? Come and drink from My Living Water.”

The Shaking Will Continue

God is speaking to us through the pain and darkness of our world. In verses 26-27, we see His message clearly. In a simple statement, the shaking that has begun will continue. When our world is turned upside-down, it is being shaken.

Why is shaking necessary? So that the eternal things remain. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (v. 27). The things that cannot be shaken are those things that will last and are eternal. Paul said much the same thing to the Corinthians:

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:12-16).

There will come a time—and that time is upon us—where more and more will be shaken. We ourselves are being shaken, so that those things in us that are of the flesh may be removed, and we may be seen to be refined silver.

The Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

In the midst of this confusion, pain, and darkness, how are we to respond? We are to cling to the Father and be grateful that this is not our home. This kingdom—the world—will continue to be shaken. But we who are His children are part of another Kingdom. That Kingdom will never be shaken or destroyed. An in that Kingdom lives peace, joy, love, light, and no pain. We are to hold onto the Father, letting Him do His work in us so that we may enter that final Kingdom.

What is the message of this passage? It is, as Isaiah said earlier, come to the Father. Come as you are and buy what you need without money. Give Him your thirst, brokenness, confusion, and pain, and drink from His Living Water. Hold onto Him in the midst of the shaking. Eventually, what’s left will be beautiful, more precious than diamonds or refined gold or silver. We will be Home, in the Kingdom that endures forever.

Toward Christ: The Ingredients for Change

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20-21).

What is necessary for true biblical change to occur? In our last post, we mentioned that biblical change happens when we expose and repent of and turn from attitudes of the heart that promote self-protection over loving involvement with God and others. We then turn to Christ in faith and dependence. In this post, we will look at those two ingredients closer: repentance and faith.

Sparking Change Through Repentance

What does it mean to repent? If repentance is necessary for change to occur, then we need to know what repentance is. The dictionary defines repent this way: “[To] feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin; to view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse.” From this definition, it might seem that repent means little more than saying “I’m sorry,” and sincerely meaning it. In fact, that’s how many people—even many Christians—view the term.

The Bible uses repent in a much deeper way. The word translated repentance is the Greek metanoia, which means primarily “a change of mind.” So, as one writer put it, we change how we are thinking about what we are thinking. We thought this way, now we change how we are thinking. I thought it was okay to tell a “little white lie,” but now I realize it’s no different than a “big dirty lie.” Repentance always has the notion of “turning from” something. I turn from that old attitude and turn toward a new attitude (or in the biblical sense, I turn to Christ in faith—we’ll discuss that in a bit).

Though some view repentance as “changing our ways” (i.e., our behavior), the change of action or behavior is simply a result of my repentance. This is why John the Baptizer told the Pharisees to “Bear fruit in keeping with your repentance” (Matt. 3:8). What he was saying to them is, “You say you have changed your mind about sin? Turned from your real sin and embraced the truth? Show it by your actions.” Our actions are simply the manifestation of what has happened inside.

Before moving on, let’s give an example of how biblical faith might work:  One day, little Johnny comes to his mom and says, “Mom, I lied to you today. I told you Mark hit me first, but really, I hit him first. That was wrong, and I’m sorry. I’m going to tell the truth from now on.” Now, has Johnny repented? It certainly sounds like he repented. He acknowledged that what he said was a lie and that it was sin (he changed his mind about that), and he turned toward the truth. So, yes, he did repent of that lie.

Consider this, though. What about the underlying attitude that created the lie? Why did he lie? To protect himself from the pain of possible consequences? Because he has learned that lying is a way to protect himself or get what he wants? Has he repented of those attitudes? If not, such attitudes will remain, and he will be forced to make that decision again. Repentance, like change itself, must go to the heart of the matter.

Continuing Change Through Faith

Not only does repentance mean “turning from,” but biblical repentance always includes faith (the “turning toward”). That’s why it’s more than just “I’m very sorry.” Faith, then, is the “turning toward.” Specifically, we turn toward Christ in dependence. If sin, at its core, is our way of trying to manage life on our terms, then faith is believing Christ and coming to Him to live life on His terms.

What is faith? The Oxford Dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Synonyms of faith include trust, belief, confidence, reliance, and dependence. That’s a good starting point.  Faith is confidence in something or someone. From this definition, we’re going to talk about the four essentials of biblical faith. All of them revolve around the God of the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Submission:  Biblical faith is always submitted to the will and purposes of God. What does this mean? It means that though we pray in faith, we don’t always know the higher purposes of God. When He has something different from what we ask, we are to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”
  • Object: Many people say, “Just have faith.” But faith in who or what? Faith always requires an object. Biblical faith always has the God of the Bible and Jesus as the object. Without Him, our faith is little more than wishful thinking.
  • Active:  Biblical faith goes beyond mere assent. It is active, spurring the believer to act in obedience. Beyond the fact that the Bible tells us, we know that Abram believed God (had faith in Him) because he obeyed the Lord’s voice.
  • Revelation:  Biblical faith does not create its own reality (i.e., anything goes). Rather, it responds to the revelation of God’s Word.

We can use the acronym of SOAR to summarize true biblical faith. We believe what God has revealed to us, we submit ourselves to His will, and we act on our faith. When we do that, we will naturally move toward Him and others in love and service. In turn, we have His promise that “[T]hose who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).

Next post in the series

Material in this post is adapted from my book, Keys to the Kingdom: Foundations for Growth and Change, available on the website.

Toward Christ: A Model for Biblical Change

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:37-40).

In this post we’re going to begin our discussion of biblical change. What does it mean to change? What does change look like? To put the question another way, “What is the goal of biblical change?” Of course, we all know what the word change means. The dictionary defines change as “[to] make or become different.” So, we want to see something different, we want to be different in our lives. But what should be different, and how do we change? These are the questions of this post.

The Goal of Change

When we look at the passage at the top of this post, we can clearly see our goal as believers. We are to love God with everything we are, and love people. In becoming like Christ, we love others. We can say, then, that the goal of biblical change is to help us move toward God in loving trust, dependence and service, and toward others in loving, sacrificial service. By implication, anything that stands in the way of that goal is to be resisted.

Defining Biblical Change

If we are to become like Christ, then we must seek change—the kind of change that will move us toward God and others in love. I suggest there are three statements that we can use to define and frame what it means to change n a biblical sense. When we understand and apply these ideas, we are on the journey to change and growth.

Many people talk of change, and indeed make changes to their life. We change jobs, schools, college majors, houses, spouses, hairstyles, and a host of other things. We seek change because we feel that something is not right, is out of place, or is missing. Similar to the check engine light on the dashboard of a car, we have a sensor in our soul that goes off. And so we try to figure out what is wrong and what needs to be changed. For many people the “change” is simply changing our circumstances or behavior.

However, if we pursue a goal of simply eliminating “bad” behavior (however that phrase is defined in a particular Christian community), we will see only outer behavior modifications based on some standards external to us. A group of people tried that about 2,000 years ago.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were experts in this sort of outward change. The adapted their behavior to fit the demands of the Law (at least as they saw them, which they cleverly interpreted to benefit themselves). Jesus, though, uttered strong words against this kind of “change:”

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

“You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. . . . For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:25-28).

Now, Jesus was speaking about and to the religious experts of the day. If anyone knew the Law, they did. They knew the words but kept their obedience on the surface. Jesus essentially said to them, “That’s not enough. Righteousness that is only outward is not righteousness at all.” So, our first foundation for change is this:

Biblical change must start from the inside, with attitudes of the heart.

Any change that does not start from attitudes of the heart puts us in the same boat as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

When we look back at the passage at the top of this post, we are reminded again that the Greatest Commandments are to love God and others. These commandments are relational in nature. Those who attempt to live as “lone ranger” Christians, are not taking these commandments and the implications seriously. Our second foundation for change, then, is this:

Biblical change is change that moves a person toward God and other people in love.

If love is the goal, then any change, to be called ‘biblical change,’ must move us toward that goal. By implication, anything that stands in the way of moving toward God in loving trust, dependence, and service and toward others in loving service and involvement is to be resisted and forsaken. So, our third foundation for biblical change becomes:

Biblical change involves exposing and repenting of thoughts and attitudes that promote self-protection over loving involvement.

If we understand biblical change as moving toward God and others in loving involvement, it follows that anything in us that prevents that is sinful. It’s entirely possible to have nice, socially acceptable behavior that subtly violates the command to love. This is particularly true if the behavior is designed to protect ourselves from criticism, rejection, or other emotional pain.

As we’ll discover on this journey of growth, the kind of change that the Bible commands can be difficult. The flesh is very deceptive, making us think we are being “good Christians,” when in fact we are simply trying to protect ourselves or get what we want. We must ask the Spirit to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). As we do that, we find ourselves closer to the goal of love.

Next post in the series

Material in this post is adapted from my book, Keys to the Kingdom: Foundations for Growth and Change, available on the website.