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One Mark of a Healthy Church September 15, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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As you know, tomorrow night at our church there will be a meeting open to the congregation to discuss a newly drafted position paper on the issue of divine election.  I was involved in the process of drafting part of this document, and I am grateful that time was taken by church leaders to get together for many weeks to discuss the great and glorious doctrines of election and predestination.

Yet I know that there are some in the church who disdain that such meetings take place.  They think that to sit around, discussing and debating doctrinal matters, is a waste of time.   ‘Let’s stop worrying so much about the details of doctrine, and let’s start reaching the lost and loving one another,’ they might say.

One thing that I find interesting about the kind of person who typically is irritated by doctrinal debates is that they also typically express a desire to live like the Acts Church.  They say they long for the Church to be like it was in the New Testament, the way it is described in the book of Acts.  No doubt they have in mind verses like these in Acts 2,

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awecame upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

They read passages like this and they say, ‘Come on!  Let’s make our church like this one, with real love and fellowship!’  And I agree!  But what I find interesting is that these lovers of Christian community who long for an Acts Church experience are skeptical about doctrinal debates.  It seems as though in rejoicing in the Acts Church, they seem to overlook Acts 15:

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question…When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

This is amazing, isn’t it?  The Acts Church that everyone wishes we could re-kindle, was a Church that experienced doctrinal dissension followed by debating among the leaders to determine what was true and valuable for the souls of God’s people.

So I agree with my doctrinally skeptic friends; let us pursue an Acts Church experience in all our local churches.  In doing so, we ought to see genuine love and fellowship among God’s people, and we ought to see great care when it comes to matters of doctrine.  When there is disagreement, careful, humble debate and discussion by the leaders is necessary to preserve a true New Testament church experience for God’s people.  Only by doing the hard and glorious work of discussing the whole counsel of God will we preserve the ‘faith once for all entrusted to the saints’.

Longing for An Acts Church,


The Compassion of Jesus September 14, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.

Hey Joe,

Sorry bro, I know I have been dropping the ball here at Blog Nation.  Where have I been?  I suppose I could best explain with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11:28, “28Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”  Except for me it has not been all the churches, but the one in particular that God has called me to serve in.   Ministry is great, but the more I am involved in it the more I can relate to this verse.

Anyway, the other day I read these words in Mark 6,

 “34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”

I found this to be an amazing sentence (actually it’s two sentences in English, but only one in Greek).  The compassion of Jesus is a precious thing, something that all Christians treasure.  And yet what struck me in this verse is what the compassion of Jesus prompted Him to do.  He had compassion on the people, and the result of His compassion was that He taught the people many things.

Jesus did many things to demonstrate His compassion.  Just after this, He fed 5,000.  He healed the sick and cleansed lepers and raised the dead and dined with sinners, and on and on I could go.  But let us not miss this.  Moved with compassion, Jesus taught the people many things.

Many people today seem to believe that an over-emphasis on teaching is unloving and unhelpful.  It is impractical and promotes cold intellectualism and unnecessary divisions.  But oh how desperately we need to learn our philosophy of ministry from Jesus, not from our experience!  Jesus’ compassion moved Him not to ignore teaching, but to practice it.  Because He loved the people so much, He was moved to instruct them in the ways of the Kingdom.

This point was pressed home even more for me last week when I prepared my message on the life of Joni Eareckson-Tada.  In her autobiography, she talks about the repeating cycle of hope followed by setback followed by suicidal despair that she couldn’t seem to break.  Then she describes what finally broke the cycle.  It was being introduced to a young man named Steve Estes.  Joni writes,

He sensed that I…had not really mastered some of the basic Christian doctrines – the character of God, the deity of Christ, sin, repentance, and salvation – and that became the focus of our weekly studies…As Steve shared basic Bible doctrine with us, I began to see the shallowness of my own faith and spirituality.  My spiritual ups and downs could be charted as easily and accurately as my physical progress…With each succeeding week, spiritual truth became more real, and I began to see life from God’s perspective…

While there are many people today who say we should worry less about Bible doctrine and focus just on loving people, it is clear that as Jesus loved people by teaching them, so Steve Estes loved Joni specifically by teaching her Bible doctrine.  And as Joni began to learn more about life from God’s perspective, she began to see some of the reasons why God had brought about her paralysis.  As she began to learn more about God’s sovereignty, Joni began to see that her accident was not a tragedy, but a tool. 

The practical fruit that has been borne in Joni’s life has been the result of a man who loved her enough to teach her.  He was a man who followed in the steps of Jesus, who loved people by teaching them, not by minimizing the importance of sound teaching.

May we who bear Christ’s name have the same burden to teach and serve others in a way that would make manifest the beautiful compassion of our Lord and Savior.


The Sluggard’s Craving September 13, 2007

Posted by Joe in Random Musings, Scripture Meditation.
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Where are you brother? I need to get you back in blogging shape sometime soon here. When I get home, I will make sure to tie you down to your desk, so that you can pump out 10 posts or so that I can manage for you!

Anyhow, I wanted to share a short reflection I had the other day while playing hoops. (And yes, I will keep it short.) I was working out in the gym. Nothing fancy. Just doing my normal routine, while another guy entered the gym and began shooting on the other end. He was a younger guy I suppose who had his headphones on and looked like he really wanted to get a workout. His actions supported that notion as well, because he began shooting and running around quite frantically in some respects. Three-pointers and intense moves to the hoop filled up most of his time.

The one thing I could not help but take notice of, however, was the simple fact that he was absolutely horrible. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. He was just plain horrible. He was flying through the lane and throwing up 3 foot shots that wouldn’t even hit rim. And that is not an easy feat. His three-point shot was flat and he didn’t make much, but he kept running around hard.

Another thing that I could not help but notice was the fact that he was a little frustrated with himself. And this, in particular, was what set up off to thinking. For here was this guy working out hard on the basketball court in a way that was not really constructive. Now, he was getting something of a workout, but he was a little frustrated and wasn’t really doing anything to improve his game. And, more than anything else, I knew that he had not done much in the past to improve his game. So why did he expect so much now?

Now, I realize that I may have been reading the situation wrongly. That is surely a possibility, but either way, the lesson that came to my mind is summed up in Proverbs 13:4, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of diligent is richly supplied.”

Note one main thing: the soul of the sluggard still craves. That’s big isn’t it? For you would think that someone who rarely plays basketball (as was this guy’s case) would by no means get disappointed when the ball didn’t go in the hoop. After all, it takes some skill and a great deal of practice. You would also think that I wouldn’t have expected to be a good golfer all those years (when I expected it that is,–for I don’t anymore!) when I rarely if ever played golf. Yet here we are, expecting good things while never preparing for them.

Now, this is one thing when it comes to athletics, but quite another when it comes to our spiritual lives. So the question I want to ask is this: Are we expecting good things while failing to diligently prepare for them? Are we expecting to be strong in suffering or great in our parenting or ministry or whatever else while we fail to prepare for greatness? Do we walk out on the court once a year and wonder why the ball doesn’t go in? Or do we go play golf now and again and get a little frustrated even though we never practice? I trust you get the picture. And I trust you would agree that this is something we could all work on.

Let us exhort ourselves Lar and take pains to be diligent in our preparation. Sure, we may not see the fruit today, but is it really today that we are worried about? A little to be sure, but not fully.

Seeking Him with you,

Therefore… August 16, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Quotes, Scripture Meditation.
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From a sermon by Piper on Romans 12:1 —

When Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers . . .” he is saying: The life I am calling you to live (in Romans 12-16) is built on something. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has roots. It has a foundation. Christian living has roots. It has foundation. It has causes and grounds and reasons. And that is no small thing!

For the next five chapters Paul will call us to live a certain way as Christians. And with this word “therefore” he is saying: The foundation we build our lives on is the foundation laid in Romans 1-11. Paul is turning now from doctrine to practice. He is turning from theology to ethics. From what is true about God and Christ and salvation to what we should do—what we therefore should do because of Romans 1-11. Because of all the truth about God and sin and Christ and the cross and the Spirit and faith and justification—because of all that we have seen in Romans 1-11, therefore we are to build our practical lives on this. Paul moves from foundation to application with the word “therefore.” Christian acting and feeling and speaking are not rootless. They have foundation. They are built on something. Paul spent 11 chapters, and we spent six years, laying the foundation for the building of Romans 12-16. If we miss this connection, we miss everything.

The Point of Christianity: To Glorify the Mercy of God in Christ Let me give you one reason for this and an application. The reason Christianity must build our lifestyle on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is that the whole point of Christianity is to glorify the mercy of God in Christ. We exist to put the glory of God’s mercy in Christ on display. So Paul spends 11 chapters opening the mercy of God in the work of Christ, and then says, “therefore” build your lives on this. Live a life that shows this! That’s why you exist.

So we say, “Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore, I do this and not that. Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore I speak this way and not that way. Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore I cultivate this kind of emotion and put that kind to death. Because I exist to glorify the mercy of God in Christ, I live this way and not that way. Christian living is built on something!

An Application for Parents: Don’t Say “Just Do It”

One application: Parents, teach your children that the behavior and attitudes you expect from them are built on something! Don’t say, “Just do it.” As they get older help them see that the standards of thought and attitude and action and entertainment and ministry and mercy are all built on the mercy of God in Christ. Help them see that Christian living is not a list of do’s and don’ts, it is a way of showing the glory of God and Christ. Help them see that Christian living—for children and teenagers and adults—is built on the gospel—on the beauty of Christ crucified and risen and reigning. The question is not mainly, “What’s wrong with this music or this movie or this party or this dress or these drugs or these friends?” The question is, How can I act and speak and feel so that I help my friends see the worth of Jesus above all music and movies and parties and friends? How can I live to show that Jesus didn’t come into the world to help me party better but to help me love better and die better?

Cultivate in your home the understanding of the word “therefore” in Romans 12:1. Help the children absorb this worldview. The Christian life has roots. It has foundation. It is built on something. Because of the truth of Romans 1-11, therefore live the life of Romans 12-16. That’s Paul’s first message in verse 1.

You can read the rest here.

Trusting in Horses and Chariots August 16, 2007

Posted by Joe in Scripture Meditation.
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So I had a good extended time of Bible meditation this morning and thought I would share a few thoughts.

The first comes from Psalm 20:7 which says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

In essence, what struck me was the fact that our trust in the Lord does not lead us to less diligence or discipline in our use of horses and chariots. On the contrary, I think it should lead to more. What I mean by that is that though the Israelites did not want to trust in their horses and chariots, they still had to labor, in wisdom and with great diligence, day in and day out to maximize their horse training and their chariot maneuvering. They had to train for battle, though they were trusting in the Lord.

Of course, this carries with it great risk, but it is a risk that we must take. The risk is simply that the more you train, the more apt you are to trust in your training ultimately, that is, to trust in your horses and chariots. The more you invest into a certain thing, the more apt you are to trust in it. The flip side of this, however, is that if we fail to train and have the opportunity and capability to do so, the Lord usually will not grant His blessing. Sure, we can overspiritualize things (and I do think that this is a great struggle), but in the end, that is all that it is–an overspiritualization of things. For me to say that the Lord is going to provide for me financially (that is, I am not going to trust in my chariots and horses) while I fail to balance my checkbook and come up with an overall plan for how I am going to maximize the resources He gives me–well, that is an overspiritualization of things. And I think it is downright wrong. Does it honor the Lord? Well, it might seem to, but I don’t think it really does. What honors Him more is for me to do what I know I ought and to work my chariots and horses so that they are prepared when battle time comes. And, in all of that preparation, to always remain dependent and fighting for faith in the Lord.

This is big for us I believe. I think that most Christians today are desperate to embrace both sides of the equation, for all of us tend to lean towards one side or the other. Some of us are apt to trust in means while others are apt to overspiritualize things to such a degree that we fail to do what we ought to do. We fail to get down to the hard work of diligent preparation. Let us realize then that our trust in the Lord does not mean that we neglect means. As as basketball player, it is foolish for me to think that the Lord is going to open a great door of opportunity for me (and that I am going to succeed in walking through that door) if I have not done my diligent preparation. Or as a Christian, it is foolish for me to think that I don’t need to spend time in the Word and prayer because I don’t want to trust in that activity, but in the Lord. That isn’t spiritual. It is more spiritual to get down to work in utmost humility and dependence, in the recognition that “the soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Provers 13:4 I believe).

I could go on, but that is enough for now. I’ll save my other Bible meditation for sometime later. Until then Lar, let us examine ourselves to see where we are failing in this. And in what areas of our lives that we are failing. Let us leave no stone unturned brother, but seek to honor the Lord in all things–by trusting Him ultimately, while diligently doing all we can to prepare for battle (whatever that ‘battle’ may be).

Seeking to trust and to labor with you,

The Challenging of Worldviews August 13, 2007

Posted by Joe in Scripture Meditation.
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I was reading Jeremiah 38 at some point last week and was forced to think through the response of the Israelites to Jeremiah’s difficult words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. What struck me was the way in which the Israelites had no intellectual framework with which to deal with Jeremiah’s words and thus, rejected them. What follows is my journal entry. I could clean it up, but I think it is better just to put it out there for some discussion (if you wish).

Jeremiah was clear enough in all his words. In fact, he could not have been clearer probably. Yet the king and the people still refused to listen. Of course, there may have been some who surrendered and had their lives spared, but on the whole, the people had no framework to embrace Jeremiah’s words. They could not imagine Jerusalem being taken and burned. They had forgotten the Lord’s clear covenant. Surely they underestimated their own wickedness–as we all do. But they also failed to think through Jeremiah’s words and allow those words to challenge their own limited worldview.

If the Lord loves us–and if we love the Lord–our thinking is bound to be stretched. We are so limited in our thoughts. All of us are prone to believing that we have everything figured out. Particularly when we get ahold of some good theological truth, we are apt to think that we have all the answers. But this is not the case. We are still limited. Maybe not as limited as we were before, but we are limited nonetheless. Our intellectual frameworks must be challenged or else we will remain limited in our thinking and living. In fact, our intellectual frameworks are consistently challenge, but we often resist change and refuse to think through things, because they are uncomfortable to us. Arrogance feeds off ignorance. So we are very prone to fiercely hold onto our intellectual frameworks. It’s a work of pride, a work of deception. We think we are standing for the truth, when in fact, we are standing for our own ignorance and arrogance. We are allowing our pride to stand in the way of greater learning and greater joy.

If we are not being challenged in fresh ways intellectually, we are probably both ignorant and arrogant (For the two go hand in hand). So, in my opinion, we ought to continually pursue intellectual enlargement. We need to be challenged. Our worldviews continually need to take greater shape and grow in depth. We are desperate for this. The world is desperate for this.

Few things are more frustrating to me than Christians who reach a certain point of intellectual growth and in turn, refuse to dive deeper or to pursue greater growth. The reason why? An arrogance that feeds off a certain degree of ignorance (and we all vary in this respect). And this resistance certainly leads to greater ignorance and arrogance. And isn’t this a great turnoff to the world? I think it can be said that if our thinking is not being stretched, then we are not thinking clearly. At the very least, we are not thinking Bible.

The people in Jeremiah’s day refused to deal with his words because they did not fit into their present worldview. But look what happened to them….they were destroyed. They embraced ignorance in order to remain arrogant and consequently, ended up resisting God. Let us be wise enough not to do the same.

Seeking to be stretched,

“It Never Entered My Mind” August 8, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.

Yesterday I mentioned that recently I was handed a list of verses from Jeremiah suggesting that God does not know all future events.  Since the topic of open theism is a hot one these days, I thought I would post my reply to the person who passed these verses on to me.  My response was long, so I will post the second part of it tomorrow.  Here’s the first part of what I said; the verses in question are mentioned at the beginning of my letter:

Dear Friend,


Here is my attempt to explain how I understand the verses that you shared with me.  Three of those verses are very similar and I will try to address them all in one.  The fourth verse I will try to answer separately.  As a reminder, here are the verses you shared with me:


31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.” (Jeremiah 7:31)


5and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—” (Jeremiah 19:5)


35They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” (Jeremiah 32:35; you had written, 32:5, but I trust you were referring to this one)


It is a bit difficult to respond to these verses because I am not sure exactly what I am responding to.  From previous conversations my guess is that you are quoting these verses to show that God was unaware that the people were going to do these things, and thus was not in control of it.  But even here I may be misunderstanding your point.  So without knowing exactly what conclusions you are making, here is an attempt to explain how I understand these verses.


The first thing I think that I need to establish is that the Bible sometimes uses figurative language.  That is, not every word of the Bible is meant to be taken literally.  I hope that you agree with me about this.  When Jesus says in Matthew 5 that if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, He is not literally calling us to self-mutilation.  He is using a vivid figure of speech to communicate the kind of vigilance that Christians ought to have to destroy known sin from our lives. 


This kind of figurative language is also used in regard to describing God.  For example when God asks in Isaiah 40:12, “12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?  God does not literally measure the waters in the hollow of His hand.  God is Spirit (John 4:24), He does not hold anything in His hands.  It is a figure of speech intended to communicate His immensity, power and dominion.  Likewise when it says, “22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;  I don’t think that when God looks at us He literally sees grasshoppers.  It means that we are small and of little significance in light of His greatness and majesty. 


I understand the verses in Jeremiah (about something not entering into God’s mind) to be figures of speech, and not a literal statement that God had never before conceived of a person sacrificing their child.  The biggest reason why I am persuaded that these words should not be taken literally is verses like Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 18:10,


21You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.


10There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer


Compare especially the Leviticus verse with Jeremiah 32:35.  In Jeremiah, God says that their offering their children to Molech did not enter His mind.  Yet in Leviticus, we see that hundreds of years before this event in Jeremiah, God had strictly forbidden His people from sacrificing their children to Molech.  In order for God to forbid an act, that act had to enter His mind.  Had it never entered His mind, it would be impossible for Him to forbid it.  So in light of the fact that God had previously forbidden the Israelites from sacrificing their children, I do not take the words in Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5 or 32:35 literally.  Had this practice never entered God’s mind, there is no conceivable way that He could have forbidden this practice in the Hebrew Law.  


What then does it mean when God says that these practices did not enter His mind?  As I said, I think it’s a figure of speech.  Perhaps it’s somewhat similar to me seeing something and saying this is unthinkable.  I don’t know if you’re a sports fan, but I tend to think in sports analogies.  If I heard a report today that the Phillies traded Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (two of the Phillies’ best young players) for a minor league player who most scouts believed would never play in the major leagues, I might respond to that report by saying, ‘That’s unthinkable for the Phillies to do such a thing!’ 


What I mean is not that it’s literally impossible for me to have the thought of this trade happening, but that the trade is so foolish, so wrong, that no right-minded person would do such a thing.  In that way the trade would be unthinkable.  In a rough way, I think that’s the point of these verses in Jeremiah.  This practice of child sacrifice is so wicked and abominable in God’s sight that it’s unthinkable; or, in the words of this passage, it never entered God’s mind.


Or more simply I might just paraphrase these verses by saying, ‘God never commanded them to sacrifice their children, and it never entered His mind to command them to do such a thing, for such a thing is evil and no good being would ever command someone to do something so despicable.’  In any event, I don’t believe these verses could be legitimately used to suggest that God was surprised or unaware that this thing was going to happen. 

The Minneapolis Bridge Collapse August 2, 2007

Posted by Joe in Links, Scripture Meditation.
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I am sure you have heard of this by now, but here is a news story with available video. Also, John Piper’s reflections are well worth reading.

The first thing that came to my mind was,

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” – James 4:13-16

And don’t we need that reminder almost every single day? We never go wrong hearing the ‘same things’ time and time again. For we are so apt to grow secure and self-sufficient that we desperately need to hear over and over, “You are a mist.” I would encourage everyone to take theses things to the Lord in prayer, for only then will we really be affected by it the way we ought.

Repenting of my boasting,

He Commands Even the Unclean Spirits July 18, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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I’m not sure how you are progressing with your Greek studies, but maybe this will be a small incentive to press on. And maybe it will be an encouragement to others who have never conceived of studying biblical Greek to consider this hard and rewarding goal of reading the New Testament in the language it was written in.

One of the ways in which Greek has been valuable to me is that it forces me to slow down when I am reading. It is so easy to breeze through some of the most glorious statements in the Bible without a hint of wonder because we read them so fast that we don’t even consider what they’re saying!

I was reminded of this a couple of times this week already. I am working now on translating a passage in Mark 1 for Greek tomorrow. In it I read this:

τί ἐστιν τοῦτο; διδαχὴ καινὴ κατʼ ἐξουσίαν· καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ.

Now that doesn’t help too many people out I know! But here’s what it means: ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits, and they are obeying him.’ Jesus had just rebuked an unclean spirit, and the people were in awe. And I should be in awe, except I usually read it so fast that I don’t feel awe! But when I have to read it slowly (since my Greek still isn’t that great!), ‘even…the unclean spirits…he commands…and they obey…him…’ How my soul was stirred!

So let this be a lesson to us all, whether we read in Greek or in English. Slow down when you read! It doesn’t matter whether you get through your Bible in a year reading plan; it matters that each day you see in the Word a reason (or better, multiple reasons!) to stand in awe of Jesus. I don’t know about you, but awe doesn’t happen for me in 60 seconds. It happens with long, careful, serious reflection.

And I’m grateful that Greek helps me to do that!


James 1 July 5, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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This morning during devotions I read this portion of James 1:

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

As I pondered these words, I was struck by how many marks of a disciple are found in these verses.  What does a disciple of Christ look like?  Here’s what I saw from the words of James:

1. He is humble, as evidenced by his slowness to speak and his eagerness to listen to others (v.19).

2. He is patient, being slow to anger (v.19).

3. He is putting away all filthiness and wickedness, striving to kill all known sin from his life (v.21).

4. He meekly receives instruction from the Word of God.  He does not stand in judgment over the Word, deciding what he will or will not agree with, but puts himself under the Word, subjecting himself to all of its teaching (v.21).

5. He not only hears the Word, but he is quick to put what he hears into practice (v.22).

6. He is happy in doing good.  Holiness is not a begrudging duty for him, but a joyful practice (v.25, the word translated ‘blessed’ has the connotation of and can be translated as ‘happy’).

7. He keeps a tight reign on his tongue, being wise and careful with all of his words (v. 26).

8. He’s eager to care for the weak and the afflicted of society (v.27), and

9. He keeps himself undefiled from the corruption of this present evil age (v.27).

Quite a challenging list!  May God grant us the grace to be continually transformed into His image from one degree of glory to another.


The Quotable Jesus June 29, 2007

Posted by Joe in Scripture Meditation.
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“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Much could be said about these verses. That is for sure. However, the last line always stands out to me, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Imagine that final day, Lar. How many will come before the King of kings thinking about all their good works, congratulating themselves to a certain extent on a life well lived, only to hear Jesus tell them to depart. I wonder, do we really see things as they are? Or do we at least try?

Too often I believe we are prone to view life on the surface. Or an inch below the surface–and then we convince ourselves that we are really thinking deep. But the Bible points us deeper or further. It shows us what will take place on the final day and the way in which we are called to think and live now. It shows us who God is and what He has revealed, so that our minds might be renewed and our eyes see as they ought to see. O how we need new eyes brother! Eyes to see and ears to hear few have. I don’t want to be among them. I don’t want to view life only on the surface of things, but to look deeper, knowing that I will make mistakes, but also realizing that that is the only way to learn. Live hard, fall hard, and trust the Lord for His grace. That’s all I’ve got to a certain extent.

May the Lord grant us the grace to be faithful now, so that we might see a smile from Jesus then.

Seeking first the kingdom with you,

Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage June 13, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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As you know, it was my privilege last Sunday to preach on Jesus’ words on divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:31-32. I also relied heavily on the later passage in Matthew 19 where Jesus’ words are explained in more detail. Here’s a portion of what I said to our young people:

This is a much debated point, and I don’t have time to cover the whole scope of the debate. So let me begin with the main point, explain a little bit, and then remind you of the main point. The main point is this: The marriage union is so sacred that (almost) any form of remarriage is considered adultery.


The debate about this point (indicated by ‘almost’ in the previous sentence) centers on the meaning of the exception clause: “except for sexual immorality…” What does that mean? It’s especially controversial because in the two other Gospels where this teaching is given, there is no exception clause: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18). No exceptions! Or Mark 10, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. So why does only Matthew have this exception clause, and what does it mean? In general, there are two schools of thought.


One school of thought would say this: Mark 10 and Luke 16 must be read in light of Matthew 19, which is the full teaching. Divorce and remarriage is only permissible for the innocent party when some form of sexual immorality occurs. The reason why Mark and Luke do not include the exception clause is because they knew that their readers would have already assumed this. Since nobody would have questioned that marital unfaithfulness was a just ground for divorce, they did not deem it necessary to include this exception clause. Many Christian teachers who I respect hold this view.


But at this point in my studies, I disagree with them. I believe that when a man is guilty of adultery and he runs out on his wife, that the (innocent) wife is not free to remarry (and vice versa). It will help me to show you why I don’t agree with it by looking at Matthew 5:32: “32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery… Who is the ‘her’ referred to here? It is an innocent woman who has been divorced for a reason that is not legitimate, like maybe the man found a better-looking woman and ran away with her, or he loved his job and was sick of having to devote so much time to the wife and kids. Jesus says that such a woman, who is divorced for an illegitimate reason, commits adultery if she marries again. Jesus’ opposition to remarriage is based on the unbreakable nature of the marriage covenant, not on who is the guilty or innocent party.


So what does the exception clause mean in Matthew 5 and 19? I think it’s making an exception for those who are betrothed to be married (which was much more binding than engagement is now), when a person finds out that the one he or she is betrothed to has been guilty of pre-marital sex. The reason it’s included in Matthew and not in Mark and Luke is because Matthew alone has given an illustration of this principle in the story of Joseph and Mary. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, Matthew tells us, “19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.


They were not officially married, but Joseph was going to divorce her, and he would have been just in doing this. Had Matthew quoted Jesus’ teaching as Mark and Luke did, then it would appear that Jesus was condemning his own earthly father. So Matthew writes, “Everyone who divorces his wife – excluding the case of fornication during betrothal, as Joseph was going to do with Mary – makes her commit adultery.


This is difficult, and as I said, there is disagreement between many people whom I respect. So let me return to the main point: Divorce is so hated by God, that (almost) any form of remarriage is prohibited. If you think this sounds unfair, understand that its purpose is to show you how deep and sacred this covenant of marriage really is.

I first heard the position that I argued in favor of advanced by John Piper in What Jesus Demands from the World (check this link for a great deal on that book courtesy of the good folks at DG). At first I had a hard time embracing it, but as I studied more last week, I do believe it is the correct interpretation of Jesus’ words. Marriage is amazingly precious gift, and it is so sacred that it cannot be broken: ‘What God has joined together, let no man separate’.

Striving for a marriage which mirrors Christ’s precious relationship with His bride, the Church,


Sermon Outline June 13, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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Many thanks to those who are praying for this Sunday’s message, and the series to follow over the next three months.  My preparation has been a joy so far.  Though the bulk of my study will be spent Thursday afternoon and Friday, I already have a good sense of where God is leading me in this sermon, and my heart is burning with excitement about it already.

I mentioned yesterday that my text is going to be from Galatians 6:11-18.   Here are my three points, at least as God has led me so far:

1. What was Paul’s passion?

The Cross (6:14)

2. Why was Paul so eager to communicate this passion to the Galatians?

Being led astray by false teachers, the Galatians were in danger of abandoning the biblical gospel for a deadly non-gospel of faith and law-keeping as the way to please God. (6:12-13).

3. From what did Paul’s passion for the Cross arise?

Advancing in law-keeping beyond his contemporaries, Paul’s sin and Christ’s righteousness were exposed through a revelation of Jesus Christ, which made him a new creation (6:15). 

I would much appreciate your continued prayers,


The Cross: Our Only Boast June 12, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Prayer, Scripture Meditation.
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That is the title of the message I am preaching this Sunday morning, the first in a twelve week series at our church on the Cross.  I have been doing a lot of linking over the past few days, because my blogging time has been limited.  It probably will be over the next few days as well.  It’s always tough to preach on Sunday morning because of the time factor.  It’s got to be 40-45 minutes, whereas when I preach on Sunday nights there is no time limit.  I may go 45 one week, or 65 the next (usually closer to the latter!).

So I will be busy this week trying to boil a wonderful text on the Cross down to 40 minutes.  Here’s the text:

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Galatians 6:11-18)

I would greatly value your prayers for me and for our church as we begin this series.  I’ll try to post an outline of my message tomorrow,


Divorce and Remarriage June 8, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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As I mentioned to you yesterday, I am having a tough time with sermon preparation this week (consequently, this will probably be my only blog post today).  The primary reason for my difficulty is trying to understand what Jesus is saying about divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3ff.  Here’s the text in Matthew 19:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Opinions on divorce and remarriage — even among Christian scholars — are many and diverse.  I would value the feedback of our readers: what do you make of the ‘exception clause’ in Matthew 19:9.  Specifically, how do you think it squares with the similar statements that Jesus made without the exception clause in Luke 16:18 and Mark 10:11-12.

Let me know what the Nation thinks,


The Heart of a Worshiper June 7, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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Well, Joe is flying somewhere over the Atlantic right now, on his way back to New Jersey from Spain; so I guess it’s on me to keep things rolling today!

This morning during my devotions I read Psalm 26 (as the morning prayer already may have indicated).  As I read, I began seeing the portrait of a true worshiper.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but it set my heart and the qualities that God values in a worshiper.  Here’s what I saw:

1. Faith in God — ‘I have trusted in the Lord without wavering…’

2.  Eyes set on God’s love (most vividly revealed in the gospel of Christ crucified) — ‘Your steadfast love is before my eyes…’

3. Hating what dishonors God — ‘I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.’ (Compare Romans 12:9, ‘Hate what is evil’)

4. Moral Purity — ‘I wash my hands in innocence…’

5. Gratitude — ‘…proclaiming thanksgiving aloud…’

6. Testimony — ‘…telling all your wondrous deeds.’

7. Delight in God’s Fellowship — ‘O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house…’

8. Awareness of our need for grace, and crying out to God for more of it — ‘Redeem me, and be gracious to me…’

9. A Corporate influence — ‘…in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.’

Grant us, O God, that we should be such worshipers!

Give Psalm 26 a read and let me know what I missed,


The Shelter of the Most High June 4, 2007

Posted by Joe in Scripture Meditation.
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I was reading Psalm 91 this morning. Great stuff of course (particularly considering it is in the Bible!). Anyhow, I wanted to share my notes on the first part of verse 1. It stirred my heart. I pray it does the same for others. Here it goes….

What does it mean to dwell in the shelter of the Most High? Spurgeon puts it wonderfully when he says,

“The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercyseat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to abide in Christ and Christ in them, become possessors of rare and special benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ. To them the veil is rent, the mercyseat is revealed, the covering cherubs are manifest, and the awful glory of the Most High is apparent: these, like Simeon, have the Holy Ghost upon them, and like Anna they depart not from the temple; they are the courtiers of the Great King, the valiant men who keep watch around the bed of Solomon, the virgin souls who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Elect out of the elect, they have “attained unto the first three”, and shall walk with their Lord in white, for they are worthy. Sitting down in the august presence chamber where shines the mystic light of the Sheckinah, they know what it is to be raised up together, and to be made to sit together with Christ in the heavenlies, and of them it is truly said that their conversation is in heaven. Special grace like theirs brings with it special immunity. Outer court worshippers little know what belongs to the inner sanctuary, or surely they would press on until the place of nearness and divine familiarity became theirs. Those who are the Lord’s constant guests shall find that he will never suffer any to be injured within his gates; he has eaten the covenant salt with them, and is pledged for their protection.“

The distinction between the outer courts and The Most Holy Place is vital. For it is true that though one might be in the temple, so to speak, one might still be missing out on the presence of God and thus, the benefits that come from abiding in His presence. It is the call of every Christian to enter into the presence of the Lord. Yet most shy away! Maybe in America today, a primary reason for our fear is our great enslavement to comfort and ease. For deep down we know that if we are to press on into the Most Holy Place, we are bound to become very uncomfortable. We realize it, whether we say it or not, that if we are to truly encounter the Lord of glory, we will be like John who when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet as though dead (Rev. 1). And we don’t want that. We value our comfort more than our walk with God. Sounds harsh, but the truth usually sounds harsh to our flesh.

We are desperate today for a people who will not be content to run around the outer courts of the temple. For it is as if we as a church are busy running around the outer courts convincing ourselves that we have really entered into the presence of God. Some leaders must arise–leaders who, above all other considerations, value and enjoy close fellowship with God, leaders who refuse to settle for anything less than life inside the Most Holy Place. The veil has been torn in two. Jesus has opened the way by the bruising and breaking of His flesh. So how can we dance outside the Most Holy Place and pretend as if we have all that God wants us to enjoy? We must press in. We must pursue. We must not rest until we taste His presence. And this we must seek to do every single day. Every single morning. Indeed, we must seek to make this pursuit the central focus of our lives.

To some it might sound selfish, but that is surely not the case, for it is those who enter in behind the veil, those who dwell in the secret place of the Almighty that enjoy His sweet protection and manifest His sweet and convicting presence to the world. Only they bear the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ. And no matter who we are or what we do, this is our greatest need–the knowledge of Him. And only if this need is met can we powerfully lead others into the experience of the same.

Speaking of Hard Texts… May 29, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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In light of the discussion earlier today, I was reminded of this text in Judges 14 that I read a few mornings ago. I had intended to write a bit about it then, but never got around to it:

“1Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. 2Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” 3But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” 4His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.”

Here are the facts:

Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman, which was not lawful for Israelites to do.

His parents pleaded with him not to do it, but to take an Israelite wife according to the Law.

Samson refused and committed sin in doing so.

The writer tells us that Samson’s sinful actions were ‘from the Lord’, because He was seeking an opportunity to judge the Philistines.

Now that is a tough text! Since you gave us such good instruction from a tough text in Isaiah, what do we do with that one, brother?


Lessons from Isaiah May 29, 2007

Posted by Joe in Scripture Meditation.
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So I was reading Isaiah 29 today and came across these words,

“Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with win;
stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read'” (Isaiah 29:9-12).

Those are some intense words huh? But there they are in sacred Scripture. The first thing we should point out is that Isaiah was clearly prophesying of a coming judgment upon Jerusalem in this passage. He spoke about the coming judgment quite a bit. Israel had grown wicked and the enemy was coming as the agency of God’s judgment. Jerusalem would soon be destroyed and the Jewish people taken into Babylonian captivity.

Yet Isaiah also notes a behind the scenes work here–another aspect of the Lord’s judgment upon His people. The work? Verse 10 says that the Lord Himself has closed the eyes and covered the heads of the people. And the parathenses make it plain that He has done so through the raising up of false prophets and poor leaders. Verse 11 and 12 then point out that because of the presence of these false prophets no one can understand Isaiah’s prophesy. They all look around and think he is mad. They have spent so much time sitting under false prophets and poor leaders that when a good word comes along, they have no ability to understand it. Whoever has, to him more will be given, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away.

A few lessons to point out. 1) When the Lord is going to judge a religious people, we should expect a great growth in the number of both poor and false teachers. In this age, it means we should expect teachers who barely speak of Christ while calling themselves Christians. It also means that leaders will be raised up in our churches who might not even be Christians. The Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we have eyes to see, we can’t help but look around and see the possibility of coming judgment.

2) The more people listen to either poor or false teachers, the less capable they will be of understanding faithful, God-centered teachers. Sadly, we see this in the church all the time. People who have sat in church for years under pathetic teaching (maybe not even false, but barely surviving at least), all the sudden hear the good news with clarity and they think the guy preaching (or sharing) it is nuts. We have probably experienced this from various fronts, family, friends, and audiences of all kinds. People have their religion. They have heard the prophets before. They have heard the Word preached–or so they think. All the sudden the real thing comes along and it is as a book that is sealed. Their hearts have been hardened by poor teaching. Their capacity for truth has shriveled to the point that they call that which is true false. What a very dangerous and sad thing.

Our only hope brother is for an outpouring of the Spirit of God. New eyes must be given to the thousands who sit in church blind as can be. It’s as if they can’t read–or at least they don’t want to open the scroll. They are comfortable. They are at ease. They have their religion. And they would rather hold onto that which is false (or paltry) instead of rejecting it for richer waters. We need a miracle. We need a work of God. Or else we will have to face up to His work of judgment.

Tough realities, but it seems wise to face up to them and embrace the burden that automatically comes. What other choice do we have as the people of God? Sadly, most seem to refuse to face the facts and instead choose to drown them out with the great noice of the present day. May the Lord grant us repentance soon.

Seeking the Lord for a great work of His Spirit,

The Need for Hope May 15, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Scripture Meditation.
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I mentioned yesterday that your post from the morning about establishing our hearts had stirred something else in me which I would write about today, so I want to be true to my word and start with that this morning.  You had mentioned two verses in particular, James 5:8 and 1 Peter 1:13.  Both speak of the need for a radical, war-time mentality in the Christian life:

“8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

“13Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

I mentioned yesterday that the first source of incentive in exercising such discipline is the knowledge that it is God who is at work in us to strengthen us in this way.  This should not make us passive, but should fill us with a joyful confidence that the resolve you wrote of yesterday is attainable.

But as I read the two verses above, I see another strong incentive to this kind of war-like discipline which I can’t resist mentioning.  One of the major motivations that we have to exercise the kind of violence needed for a Christian soldier is the hope of future reward.

James says, establish your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Peter tells the persecuted Christians who he was writing to exercise discipline with their minds so that they could set them on the great grace to be revealed to them at the coming of the Lord Jesus.  In both cases, present discipline is motivated by a future hope: that Jesus is coming and that He will pour out lavish grace to those who endure faithfully in this life.

This kind of motivation is all over the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, and is quite uncommon today.  Often when a deep level of commitment is called for, the motivation given is to look back to the past at what God has done for you in Jesus.  The argument is, ‘Jesus has done so much for you…He suffered and died for you, now we must live for Him.’  Though this counsel is well-meaning, it keeps people looking backwards at the past instead of looking to the future hope we have in the coming of Christ.

This backwards looking motivation is a far cry from how the biblical writers empower obedience, as 1 Peter, chapter 5 also makes plain:

 “1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

Notice that the strong commands of verses 2-3 are motivated by this: the chief Shepherd is coming, and when He does you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  And Paul, when he came to the end of his life, expressed the focus of his heart in such a disciplined life that he lived in these words:

“7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

How did he find the strength to run so diligently?  His eyes were fixed on the crown of righteousness which the Lord would one day award to him and to all who eagerly waited for His coming.

I could go on and on, but I hope the point is clear: if we want present power for the kind of resolve that you wrote of yesterday, these verses (and countless others) make it clear that what we need is to labor to see the future rewards that God has promised us.  That hope will surely empower us to fight daily in the strength that God supplies.