The Real Deal Distinction: Authentic Faith

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

In the first century, there were many religious groups with which one might identify—and they were all known for something different. The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the Torah, the laws of Moses. Sadducees were known as the political party among the Jews. Zealots advocated for the overthrow of Rome by violent means. Samaritans would worship only on Mount Gerizim and considered only the five books of Moses to be from God.

And then came Jesus and His followers. They had no geographical, political, or zealous agenda; they were mostly lower-class people. At first, they were known only as “the Way” (Acts 9:2); later they were known as “Christians” (Acts 11:26). Was that their only distinction—a name? No, Jesus told them if they were His true followers they would be known by the love they had for one another. This was totally new! A religious movement based on love, like the love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13. That “brand” of love still applies today.

What ought to distinguish Christians from the world? Authentic love—love for one another, for enemies, and for neighbors.

Authentic Christianity is not sophisticated but simple. R. T. Kendall


The Explosive Power of Real Love – John 13:34-35 – Skip Heitzig

He Knows Your Name

I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

After breaking with our longtime church, my husband and I reunited with the fellowship after three long years. But how would people treat us? Would they welcome us back? Love us? Forgive us for leaving? We got our answer on a sunny Sunday morning. As we walked through the big church doors, we kept hearing our names. “Pat! Dan! It’s so great to see you!” As children’s author Kate DiCamillo wrote in one of her popular books, “Reader, nothing is sweeter in this sad world than the sound of someone you love calling your name.”

The same assurance was true for the people of Israel. We had chosen a different church for a time, but they had turned their backs on God. Yet He welcomed them back. He sent the prophet Isaiah to assure them, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

In this world—where we can feel unseen, unappreciated, and even unknown—be assured that God knows each of us by name. “You are precious and honored in my sight,” He promises (v. 4). “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (v. 2). This promise isn’t just for Israel. Jesus ransomed His life for us. He knows our names. Why? In love, we are His.

By:  Patricia Raybon

Reflect & Pray

Why does God welcome His people back to Him? How has He shown that He knows you by name?

Jesus, when I stray from Your arms and Your fellowship, summon me home by name. I’m so grateful to be Yours.

Secure Hope

Psalm 42

Hope is essential for life in a fallen world. Unless we believe something better awaits us in the future, we might sink into utter despair. But optimistic anticipation can also bring disappointment when we look forward to something that doesn’t materialize. So how do we determine where to place our hope—and what our response should be if it isn’t fulfilled?

Hope is secure when it’s aligned with the Lord’s desires, which are revealed in Scripture. However, many of our expectations are based on wishes or feelings. We long for things like job promotions, good health, strong relationships, or quick solutions to our problems, but we have no absolute promise from the Lord that these are part of His will for us.

Disappointment with God can occur whenever our expectations do not coincide with His plan. Even when hope is based on a scriptural promise, the Lord may not fulfill it in the way or the timeframe that we expect. 

Contentment lies in being able to distinguish subjective hopes, which originate with us, from our ultimate hope in the Lord, who is sovereign and good. Then, even when an earthly expectation isn’t realized as we wished, we can have joy, remembering that our eternal hope in God is sure. 

Demonic Discouragement

“Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?” (Job 4:18-19)

This was the strange message delivered to Eliphaz, the first of the three friends who proved such “miserable comforters” to Job in his sufferings, by “a spirit” that “stood still,… an image…before mine eyes” (vv. 15-16). This “thing was secretly [literally ‘stealthily’] brought to me,” said Eliphaz (v. 12), and there is little doubt that its original source was Satan himself, in his efforts to discredit and destroy Job. The “spirit” who instructed Eliphaz was not sent from God, as he may have thought, but was one of those angelic servants who had been “charged with folly” when they followed Lucifer in his primeval rebellion.

Still smarting with wounded pride that God would make His angels mere “ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14) to Adam and his children, whose own bodies were mere “houses of clay,” built out of the dust of the earth, these demonic rebels hate human beings—especially those who love and serve God—with great passion. If Satan could not destroy Job by tempting him into moral wickedness or rebellion against an “unjust” God, perhaps he could lead him into discouragement, using his self-righteous “friends” to cause him to lose faith in God’s love and care.

But he failed! Job said: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” and “I know that my redeemer liveth” (Job 13:15; 19:25).

Such defeatism is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. When he strikes with it, we must, like Job, “resist stedfast in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9), knowing “the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11). HMM

A Prophet in His Own Country

Mark 1:14-15

AFTER John was cast into prison, our Lord came and dwelt in Capernaum, thus fulfilling Isaiah 9:1-2 and 42:6-7. Mark tells us (1:14-15) that He came into Galilee saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye and believe the gospel.” Luke tells us that He came to Galilee “in the power of the spirit.” At Nazareth, His own hometown, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day “as His custom was.” It reminds us of Paul entering the synagogue of the Jews in Thessalonica “as his manner was.” It is not the custom or manner of many nowadays, even many Christians, to follow this example.

Anyone might address the congregation, so our Lord stood up to read. He took His text from Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” It is significant that He did not read the next statement from Isaiah: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” This has to do with judgment, and that will follow when Messiah comes again. His message then was one of grace. Following this reading, our Lord made a clear claim of Messiahship: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” But He knew they would not receive Him, and He declared that truth—proven so many times since—that no prophet is accepted in his own country.

No doubt they were saying to Him, in thought at least, “Why don’t you do the wonders here you did at Capernaum?” Our Lord then refers to Elijah and Elisha who had the same experience—were not appreciated at home, but did their greatest work among strangers. Here is a truth seldom mentioned today except to emphasize its exceptions. One hears occasionally, “So-and-so has proven an exception to the proverb about a prophet in his own country.” But there is no doubt that preachers will fare better if they go to new fields rather than settle where all the neighbors know them by their first name. Familiarity does breed contempt, and a stranger from somewhere else with a poorer message will be received far better than home-talent with much to say. Perhaps it ought not be so, but it is.

It would seem to follow as an inevitable corollary that even after he has settled in a new field, it is not well for the average minister, at least, to be a “hail-fellow-well-met” on too many fish-frys and parlor get-togethers. People either look up to a preacher or down on him, and too much backslapping and “regular-fellow” tactics add little to his power on Sunday. He will be called cranky anyway by some people, no matter what he does; so it is well to stay apart—even too much—and have the respect of those who might pick weak spots in his armor in too much gadding around.

The Lord Jesus Christ found He could do no mighty works where He had grown up. The applications of the proverb which He stated should be more thoughtfully pondered today. None knew men so well as He, and any principle He proved true can scarcely be overruled by you and me.

The Whole Truth

The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.—John 14:26

Another lesson given by Jesus to His disciples when preparing them to receive the Holy Spirit was that the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of all that Jesus had said. A famous agnostic once said that the irreconcilable conflict between science and religion is that science is never fixed—it is open and progressive: religion, on the other hand, is fixed on absolutes and dogmas.

Well, it is true that Christianity is fixed, but it also provides for a continuing revelation: “The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things.” Jesus is God’s final and complete revelation, but because of the limitations in us, this revelation must be gradually unfolding. Notice, however, that the teaching of the Spirit is according to a fixed pattern: “[He] will … remind you of everything I have told you” (v. 26). He will teach us more than Jesus taught but not other than Jesus taught. Someone said of this approach that it is both conservative and radical because it conserves all that Jesus taught and because it applies to new areas of life the universal aspect of Jesus.

“[He] will … remind you of everything I have told you.” Note that word “everything.” When we are not under the Holy Spirit’s tutelage, we tend to focus on just one thing Jesus said and neglect the “everything.” Then what happens? We produce a lopsided type of Christianity, with an overemphasis on one thing and an underemphasis on another. Christian communities who concentrate on one truth can easily miss the whole truth. Christians under the Spirit’s control give heed to the “everything.”

Prayer

O Father, I don’t want to live on a truth, or even a cluster of truths—I want to live on the Truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Further Study

1Co 2; Neh 9:20; Lk 12:12; 1Jn 2:27

What has God revealed to us by His Spirit?

What does the Holy Spirit bring to us?

The Abiding Presence

John 14:17

God gave two great gifts to the world. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior, and He gave the Holy Spirit to be our abiding presence. Consider Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit: “You know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Identify His person: “You know Him.” The disciples already knew about the Holy Spirit because Jesus had told them about Him. We know about the Spirit because Christ revealed the Holy Spirit to us.

Acknowledge His partnership: “He lives with you.” He is not a distant, obscure proposition. He is a present, familiar association. If we do not perceive him in continual partnership with us it is not because of His absence but because of our apathy. We sometimes think that if we have no manifestation of the Spirit, He is absent. The Spirit was not noticeably present with Jesus in those dark days of His temptation in the wilderness. But He was there. Whether you can feel or show any evidences of the Spirit or not, the important thing is to hold on to this truth: “He lives with you.”

Accept His presence: “He will be in you.” The Holy Spirit who is with us can be in us. The disciples realized this promise at Pentecost. The mention of that occasion causes some Christians to hesitate. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. There was nothing off-center about Jesus. Remember the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). There is nothing queer or peculiar here. The fruit of the Spirit is for all; the gifts of the Spirit are for particular persons for special purposes (1 Corinthians 12:11). Claim this promise: “He will be in you.”

The Holy Spirit is not a doctrine. He is a person. It is not our task to comprehend Him; it is our privilege to know Him in personal experience. He is better understood in action than in definition. Know Jesus and you know His Spirit. You have Him; let Him have you.

Bramwell Tripp, Big Themes in Small Portions

VIDEO Beautiful Feet and Gospel Shoes

And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15

In this day of instant news, it’s hard to imagine how information traveled in the ancient world. For example, when armies went out to battle, runners would be dispatched from the battle scene to return and inform the king as to the outcome of the battle (2 Samuel 18:26). The prophet Isaiah wrote about the beauty of feet that came with good news (Isaiah 52:7).

Isaiah was speaking prophetically of the good news that Israel would be returning to her homeland from exile in Babylon. How beautiful were the feet of those who would bring that message! And Israel’s return from exile prefigured the spiritual release from sin provided by Christ. Paul quoted Isaiah 52:7 when he noted the Good News of the Gospel of salvation (Romans 10:15). And he also referred to the Isaiah passage when listing the believer’s armor: shoes that carry the Good News of the “gospel of peace.” How does the Gospel protect us? Because it is Good News! We are free from the captivity of sin.

Make sure to carry the Gospel of peace with you daily. Be ready to share it with those who need and want to hear good news (Luke 2:14).

Jesus didn’t commit the gospel to an advertising agency; he commissioned disciples. Joseph Bayly


Gospel Shoes

Unseen Wonder

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him. 1 Peter 1:8

In the twilight of her years, Mrs. Goodrich’s thoughts came in and out of focus along with memories of a challenging and grace-filled life. Sitting by a window overlooking the waters of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, she reached for her notepad. In words she soon wouldn’t recognize as her own she wrote: “Here I am in my favorite chair, with my feet on the sill, and my heart in the air. The sun-struck waves on the water below, in constant motion—to where I don’t know. But thank You—dear Father above—for Your innumerable gifts and Your undying love! It always amazes me—How can it be? That I’m so in love with One I can’t see.”

The apostle Peter acknowledged such wonder. He had seen Jesus with his own eyes, but those who would read his letter had not. “Though you have not seen him . . . you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). We love Jesus not because we’re commanded to, but because with the help of the Spirit (v. 11) we begin to see how much He loves us.

It’s more than hearing that He cares for people like us. It’s experiencing for ourselves the promise of Christ to make the wonder of His unseen presence and Spirit real to us at every stage of life.

By:  Mart DeHaan

Reflect & Pray

Read 1 Peter 1:3–9 again. In what ways do these words show you how our God makes the inexpressible real to us? How open are you to the Spirit of Jesus, who lives in and among us?

Our Father in heaven, please help me to see the miracle of Your love and presence in Your Son and to believe in Your Spirit.

Holding On to Hope

1 Samuel 1:1-18

Clinging to hope is difficult when circumstances are miserable and show no signs of improving. This can be especially discouraging when we know that our all-powerful God could remedy the situation and fulfill our dreams but hasn’t.

This is probably how Hannah felt. She was heartbroken because “the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:5). This alone was a source of great disgrace for a Hebrew woman of that day. But Hannah suffered even more because of the deliberate provocation by her husband’s other wife, who was blessed with children.

Yet Hannah was a woman of great faith, even in the midst of her disappointment and pain. She never gave up on God but let her pain drive her to Him. In desperation, she poured her heart out to the Lord and promised that if He’d fulfill her desire for a son, she would give Him the child.

Hannah’s example of faith is an encouragement to lay our hopes before God—the only One who can fulfill our desires or align them with His will. Then, knowing that all we have is His, let’s be willing to give back to the Father whatever He gives us.