Monthly Archives: November 2016

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Thursday, November 10, 2016 – “He Must Increase…”

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  – John 3:30

It is not surprising that the followers of John wondered about things when Jesus launched his work.  While some people had responded to John, a far greater buzz surrounded Jesus.  John’s disciples didn’t like it that Jesus’ popularity had surpassed John’s.  It must have bothered them that John had been preaching before Jesus, but now Jesus was getting all the attention.

The followers may have wondered about all of this, but neither Jesus nor John did.  They did not view each other as competitors.  Instead, they recognized that each of them was advancing God’s plan.  John expressed to his followers that Jesus’ rising popularity was actually a good thing, a God-directed thing.  “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John said in beautiful humility.  John told his followers that Jesus was the bridegroom, and he was merely the best man.  He knew Jesus to be the Christ, and he understood himself to be the prophet preparing his way.

This saying by John is not merely an expression of humility from the Baptizer, it is also an expression of the essence of coming to faith in Christ.  Entering into a saving relationship with our Lord requires us to subjugate our will to the greater will of God.  And as we grow in grace, we daily find that Christ’s presence grows stronger in our lives.  We are simply transformed by Christ’s presence and power, and we become more like him every day.  “He must increase,” each of us confesses, “but I must decrease.”

Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.  Amen.

a Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – No Condemnation

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”    – John 3:17-18

Sometimes people hear bad news when good news is offered.  When the gospel tells us of God’s offer of new life, some people come to the conclusion that God has issued an ultimatum – either they accept God’s gift or God will condemn them to torment.  Such a view makes salvation comparable to spiritual extortion and paints God as a spiritual dictator.  Though widely held, these beliefs could not be farther from the image the scriptures give us of God and his offer of salvation.  “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” we read in John 3:17.  God’s purpose was not to bring judgment and condemnation but rather to offer life, hope, and salvation.  And God did this for two reasons – God’s great love for creation and creation’s great need for God.

It is important to note that God doesn’t have to condemn humanity, that’s the natural human state.  We read in John, “Those who do not believe are condemned already.”  The truth offered here is that God comes to us in our state of condemnation.  Both scripture and experience make it clear that humans are born into a sinful nature.  As egoists we naturally pursue our own best interest, often blindly and in ways that show little regard for anyone else.  As hedonists we actively seek personal pleasure and avoid personal pain.

Religious law, moral law, and even the laws of the state serve to constrain sin, to manage sinful nature.  The best the law can do is to transform our self-interest into enlightened self-interest, but the law is powerless to transform our hearts and motives and lives.

It was for that very purpose that God sent his son into the world.  Through the power of God’s grace and through the work of God’s own Holy Spirit, human hearts are changed.  By working deep within us, God’s grace can raise our purposes, our pursuits, and our passions.  No longer bound by natural instincts for survival, we are freed by God’s grace to seek out the highest, the purest, the noblest, and the best.

The Gospel assures us that God comes to us not with a frightening threat of condemnation but with a gracious offer of freedom and life – salvation through Christ Jesus.

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:22

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016 – Believing in Christ…

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.    - John 3:16-17

The great promise of the scripture is summed up in John 3:16.  A promise that God loved at the highest level and God gave the greatest gift, all for the purpose that anyone and everyone could believe and have eternal life.  Many people who don’t know anything else about the scriptures know and lay claim to this passage.

Notice in this familiar passage that there is only one thing that the object of God’s love needs to do to be the recipient of God’s gift – believe.  So, what does it mean to believe in Christ?

Well, perhaps the best way to answer that is to begin by noting what it does not mean to believe in Christ, what it could not mean.

  • It cannot mean that we simply believe that Jesus existed.  The people who despised Jesus and put him to death had no doubt that he existed.
  • It cannot mean that we simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  As important as the issue of Jesus’ divinity is, it is not by itself a sufficient condition for the necessary consequent.  The scriptures point out that evil, destructive, demonic spirits believed Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 1:24, 5:7, etc.).
  • It cannot mean simply believing what Jesus said.  We are rationally capable of simultaneously accepting what someone says as truth and dismissing it as being culturally specific or irrelevant in our situation.

The real mystery of faith is not that Jesus lived, not that Jesus was God’s son, not that Jesus told the truth, but that Jesus opens to us eternal life.  By eternal life, the scriptures are not talking about an extension of our bodily functions forevermore.  Eternal life is life on God’s terms, in God’s time, with the fullness of God’s blessings.  All of Jesus’ miracles offer signs of this life.  This is a life lived in relationship with God through Christ, and we enter into this eternal life not upon death, but rather upon belief, upon denying ourselves and living unto Christ – upon losing our life for Christ’s sake, upon becoming part of the mighty movement of God.

I need to give you a warning about eternal life.  It is a free gift, defined by incalculable blessings, but it also comes with impossible demands.  Eternal life is life lived fully on Jesus’ terms – loving the things Jesus loves, caring the way Jesus cares.  It is living on the highest level for the noblest purposes to the greatest glory of God.  It is the grandest, hardest, most glorious, impossible life imaginable.  So, think carefully about it before you accept this gift… do you believe in Christ?

Good Father, I believe, help thou my unbelief.  Amen

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:25

a Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Monday, November 7, 2016 – Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus…

Nicode’mus said to him, “How can this be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen; but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  – John 3:9-15

During the long ordeal in the desert wilderness, the newly freed Hebrew slaves found much to complain about, and the scriptures are filled with accounts of their “murmurings.”  Instead of trusting the God who delivered them from the strong and mighty hand of Pharaoh, they remembered fondly their days in captivity and complained continually against their liberator.

Why did God rescue the Israelites from slavery if they were happy in Egypt?  Perhaps it is not that they were happy so much as it is that they were comfortable.  No doubt it was a hard life, but it was predictable – there was food; they were protected by their captors; and while there was heartache and toil, the Hebrew people had learned to accommodate their station in life.  All was well enough in their eyes, but all was not well with God.  God did not create his people to be slaves.  He did not bring forth a mighty nation from childless Abraham and Sarah just so they could be comfortable living as strangers in a foreign land.  God’s plan was greater than their plan.

As God brought deliverance, the Israelites experienced many and various trials, one of which was a series of attacks by poisonous serpents.  Moses interceded for his dying people, and God instructed him to put a fiery serpent on his staff and lift it high, that all who were dying could look to it and find healing.

Jesus told Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews, that just as God had a greater plan for the Hebrew people than to be enslaved in Egypt, so too God has a greater plan for his people than to be enslaved in sin.  And just as God had provided a salve to bring healing in the wilderness of Sinaii, so too God has provided salvation to bring healing to a dying world.  And just as the Hebrews were healed as they looked at the serpent which had been “lifted up,” so too healing, wholeness, even eternal life are offered to those who turn to the Christ as he is “lifted up.”  Lifted up on the cross of Calvary, lifted up in ascent to heaven, lifted up as lord of life, Christ offers salvation to all who turn and trust.

Good Father, help me to trust you, to turn my eyes and my life to Jesus, and to follow where he leads.  Amen.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9

a Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston