January 31, 2018

What’s in a name?

Some cultures believe that a name describes our character or what that character should be. This was especially true for the people of God in the Old Testament. While this cannot be taken too far, a study of names can produce surprising insights. Many places and people have names that are related to a reality or event.

God is described with several names that are rich in meaning. However, at least one religious cult says that the proper name of God is Jehovah and since they use that name, they claim to be the only true believers. They get this from God’s encounter with Moses, but unfortunately didn’t do their homework.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13–14)

I don’t know much about the Hebrew language so consulted people who do. From several, I learned that this name was not a new revelation. The OT people who believed in God already knew the word translated ‘I AM.’ However, this word is a challenge. It is four consonants without vowels. The proper pronunciation has been lost. It could be: “I am He who is,” or “I am He who exists” reflecting the “is-ness” of God by both His presence and existence. Both are important.

He already told His people that He would be with them in their troubles. While the term speaks of God’s self-existence, they associated it with His relationship to them as their faithful, covenant Redeemer. It also refers to God as creator and sustainer of all that is and all that is happening. He is active and present in their lives. Moses may have understood what He said as, “I cause to be because I cause to be.”

In this encounter with Moses, God authorized him to tell His people: “I AM” has sent me to you,” making this man His prophet who was assigned to speak on His behalf to the Israelites.

In summary, God’s name is a dynamic name based on a Hebrew verb. He is the self-existent One who always was, always is, and always will be, the faithful and dependable God who calls Himself “I AM.” Centuries later, Jesus would take the name “I AM” and even complete it saying: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the true vine” (15:1), and so on.

There is no one like God. Tozer says, “When God would make His name known to mankind He could find no better word than ‘I AM.’ When He speaks in the first person He says, ‘I AM’; when we speak of Him we say, ‘He is’; when we speak to Him we say, ‘Thou art.’ Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point. ‘I am that I am,’ says God, ‘I change not.’”

People often say that people never change, but that is not true. Children grow; their ideas and values change along with their bodies. My husband has changed in the years we have been married. I have changed too, become less concerned with my well-being and more interested in others. Everyone I know changes as they learn and age.

Sometimes people change in negative ways, whether their ‘real’ self comes out or they become hardened by life. This is often disappointing, particularly if they were people we counted on to stay the same.

Even though this never happened to me, this promise is a blessing: “When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.” (Psalm 27:10, NKJV)

He never changes. He might not explain Himself, or let me in on His plans, but He never forsakes me, and He always uses all things for my good, transforming my life as He promises.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

That ‘good’ is to be like Jesus (verse 29), to be the very best person I can be and that promise also affirms that people do change — in the hands of an unchangeable God. He is who He is. I can depend upon Him.

Jesus, faith in You has transformed my life. When I think of You as the same yesterday, today, and forever, I feel anchored, held firm by You. You are my rock. I know I can depend on You, the I AM in a chaotic and constantly changing world.

January 30, 2018

Stamped on our hearts . . .

On Sunday, our pastor began a new series in Ephesians. He drew to our attention how we often talk about Christ living in us, but do we realize we are also living in Christ? This morning, I counted the phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus” in Ephesians — it appears thirty-three times!

What does that mean to be ‘in Christ’? I’ve had it explained to think of a page with writing on it inserted into the pages of a book. It may be hidden to the casual eye because the observer sees only the book. I am in Christ like that page is in the book (not a perfect analogy) because God has put me there. Not only that, when God looks at me, He sees Jesus.

Even though a Christian’s life is hidden in Him, we have been transformed by this amazing thing God has done. We are transformed because the ‘page’ or the person that God has put in Christ has writing on it, and that writing has been done by the Holy Spirit — not with ink but with His very self. It is not on a ‘piece of paper’ but on our hearts. That means, the change is to be totally visible, not hidden!

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:1–3)

This is hard to imagine. I think of a scrap-booker who pastes an image, or the machines in a mint that stamp a face on a coin. However, the message engraved from Christ on my heart is a message to the world. He put on the hearts of His people — so others can ‘read’ what He wants to say to them.

How important to watch my mouth, my actions, and to guard my heart so that message from God can be seen and heard. The old saying, “You might be the only Bible people ever read” is true. It is also vital because that message might be the words of life needed so the ‘listeners’ can put their faith in the One who grants forgiveness and eternal life.

Tozer says I do not have to be a scholar, a logician or a lawyer for any of this. Anyone can know that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh because the Holy Spirit takes the deity of Christ out of the hands of the scholars and puts it in into the hearts of His people. From there, He can convey His love, grace, and the message of life into the consciences of others.

Jesus, this is so utterly amazing, and totally humbling. I’ve nothing in me that can earn or deserve such a great responsibility. It is all of You, and totally Your work. I am in Christ and Christ is in me.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

January 29, 2018

Evidence of true faith

The first letter of the Apostle John to the Christians of his day is a letter of assurance. He outlines the evidences by which Christians know for sure that we are Christians. He talks about knowing and loving God, humility in confessing sin, loving other Christians, answered prayer, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and obedience to God. In other words, those who are really Christians show it by a changed life.

John also says this:

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18)

John’s letter is helpful even today because there are many who claim to be believers, even give evidence with ‘biblical’ actions, but do not fulfill the criteria that John lists, particularly this last one about leaving a sin-filled life behind.

I thought of John’s verses when reading Tozer’s Scripture for today’s devotional . . .  

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:44–47)

In this description, the evidence of faith and the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues and praising God. Peter was satisfied that these Gentiles had been saved. Even though the passage describes a valid evidence of faith and the work of Holy Spirit at that time, it falls short of what John later wrote. Nevertheless, these new believers were genuine and I’ve no doubt that they began to exhibit the evidences that John described in his letter.

However, both passages are important, particularly what John wrote. I say this because in today’s religious world, at least one cult speaks in tongues and many of them go through the motions of praising God. However, they give no evidence of the changed life that John describes. Tozer says that “the Holy Spirit identifies Himself with the Lord Jesus and that the coming of the Comforter is just the coming of Jesus Himself to the heart.”

This is true, but the Lord God in the Persons of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cannot enter the lives of anyone without making a difference. God is holy, righteous, true and powerful. He hates sin and loves to wipe it out, ruining its power to hold people in bondage. Those whose beliefs and message are contrary to the Word of God are still in the power of the Liar and unchanged by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, as I pray today, I am thankful for Your mercy and grace, and for the faith to believe in You. I’m also thankful for all those You have saved, changing their lives by grace. Yet I know of many who profess faith, but their lives show no evidence of it as described by John and other Bible writers. Grant me the grace to know how to pray for them too.