Test Yourselves

June 9, 2023

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NAS95)

These are the apostle Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth. The church was struggling with sin—so much so that Paul was afraid of what he would find when he came to visit them. There needed to be some serious testing and self-examination. There needed to be a genuine effort on their part to discover the true nature of their relationship with God. Were they still in the faith? Was Christ still dwelling within them? They needed to test and see.

What is the nature of this self-examination? How can you test to see if you are still in the faith? That Christ is still in you? From the context of the passage, it seems that the test is this: Are you continuing in unrepentant sin? Paul says earlier in chapter 12, “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish… that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances…” (2 Corinthians 12:20 NAS95) Paul is afraid that he won’t find what he wishes to find, i.e., that they are still in the faith. What would be the evidence of this? Ongoing interpersonal strife. An ongoing unwillingness to get along with each other. When someone continues unrepentantly in these things, they are failing the test!

Paul goes on in the next verse, “I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.” (2 Corinthians 12:21 NAS95) There needs to be a test! A critical self-examination! Those who continue on in unrepentant sexual immorality are failing the test!

If Christ is really in us, there will be an obvious change in how we live our lives. We don’t fail the test because we sin, or because we struggle with temptation. No, we fail the test when we continue on in a lifestyle of sin.

We fail the test when we choose to not turn from our sins. Is there sin in your life that you need to repent of? Is Christ in you? Let us test ourselves to see if we are in the faith.

—Scott Colvin

They Laughed at Him

June 3, 2023

The situation was grave, and the request was urgent. Jairus’ daughter was dying, so he sought Jesus’ help. When he found Jesus, he fell at his feet and implored him to come to his house. Think about this for a moment. Have you ever felt so desperate that you fell at someone’s feet to make your plea?

Jairus’ only daughter was dying. Let the word “only” sink (Luke 8:42). It is not that with several children you have one that can be expendable. The death of any child would be horrible. Yet, there is a special pain that accompanies the word only. To lose an only daughter is to have no other daughter left to comfort you. To lose an only daughter is to have no other daughter to give you grandchildren.

Do you think Jairus was urgent getting Jesus to move in the direction of his house? After all, the crowds pressed around him. It would be like seeing an ambulance with lights flashing and siren sounding stuck in a traffic jam. Then Jesus himself stopped to ask who touched him. And then a further delay as Jesus spoke with a woman who had been ill for twelve years but was now cured. No doubt a wonderful cause as you worry that the joy of the past twelve years of your life may be fading away.

While Jesus was speaking, the bad news from home arrived: “You daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” Yet, Jesus pressed on. He assured Jairus that she will be well. But when they arrived, they were confronted with the realities of death — weeping and wailing. Jesus responded, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” But the hearers knew death only too well, and they laughed.

This laugh of derision was changed to joy. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, but I suspect that the disciples of Jesus heard this kind of laugh again.

  • Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. Acts 17:32, ESV
  • And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24, ESV

With this laugh, I am reminded that the disciple is not above his master, and what they do to the master, they will do the one who follows. They laughed at Jesus, and some may very well laugh at us, but I am persuaded of the power and reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

—Russ Holden

When You Suffer Unjustly

May 27, 2023

Have you ever suffered unjustly? Have you ever had someone slander you? Have people ever looked down on you or ostracized you for your faith? How should a Christian react to unjust suffering? The apostle Peter deals with this question very thoroughly as he writes to Christians who are facing this very thing. Let’s look at his inspired words and see how the Lord wants us to react in these situations.

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts…” (1 Peter 3:13–15a NAS95)

“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:13–14 NAS95)

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps… and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:20–23 NAS95)

Some very important principles emerge from these verses. What does the Lord want us to understand when we suffer unjustly? First, we must understand that we are blessed! As we share in the sufferings of Christ, we should rejoice because the Spirit of God is resting upon us. Second, we need to lay aside fear. This can be very hard to do, but we need to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts. Jesus needs to reign supreme in our hearts, not fear. Third, we need to keep entrusting our­ selves to God who judges righteously. We often want to take matters into our own hands, as if we are alone in our struggle. We may be tempted to get even and fire back at those who are hurting us, but his was not the way of the Master. He en­ trusted everything to the Father, and so should we. Finally, we need to realize that as followers of Christ, we have been called for the very purpose of suffering for what is right, following in the footsteps of Jesus. He laid down His life even for those who persecuted and abused Him. What a powerful lesson for us. Let us fol­low His example!

—Scott Colvin

Prayer and What Might Have Been

May 19, 2023

We could probably all say that our prayer life is not as rich as we would like it to be. The Lord tells us to be devoted to prayer, yet we struggle to pray like we should. Even the most devoted Christians feel this struggle with prayer at times. What is it that hinders our prayer life? Is it busyness? Is it a lack of faith? Is it doubt that prayer really works?

I think one of the most powerful hinderances to our prayer life is our inability to see what might have been. As human beings, bound by time, we are not able to see and know for sure what our lives would have been like if we had made different choices. What would your life be like if you had gone to a different college? What would your life be like if you had never met your spouse? If you had moved to a different city? The fact is that we do not and cannot know for sure. We have an inability to see what might have been.

In a similar way, what would your life be like if you had not been a person of prayer? Perhaps we don’t have a devotion to prayer because we don’t ever see what our lives would have been like without it. Perhaps we assume that the good things in life “just happened,” and that prayer had little to no effect. But in reality, our lives could have been vastly different, in a bad way, had we not been people of prayer. Here’s a question: what has the Lord kept you from because of your prayers and the prayers of others on your behalf? What disasters have been averted? What heartaches have been avoided? What temptations never came our way? What might your life have become without prayer? Another way to ask the question is this: what would your life have become without the direct intervention of God in it? I shudder to think of the answer.

We’ll never know for sure what might have been, but if we could know, we might be astonished, and it might cause us to put much more emphasis on prayer. Though we are unable to see these things, realize this: God does see and know not only what would have been, but also what is, and what will be. And with His perfect knowledge God is telling us, “Be devoted to prayer!” God knows that prayer matters! Prayer impacts our lives in profound ways, whether we can fully see and understand it or not. Prayer changes things because it invites the Almighty to shape and direct our lives for our good. Let us thank the Lord for keeping us from what might have been, and let us renew our dedication to being people of prayer.

—Scott Colvin

The Need for Biblical Preaching

May 12, 2023

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2 NASB95)

Listen to the seriousness of this charge the apostle Paul gives to the young preacher, Timothy. Paul charges Timothy in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is the Judge of the living and the dead. He charges Timothy by the appearing of Christ and by His kingdom. As Paul writes, he is quickly nearing the end of his life. What is this solemn charge that he wants to make certain Timothy understands and appreciates the gravity of? The charge is this: preach the word!

We have a great need in the church for biblical preaching and teaching. Why is it so important? It is the word of God that breathes life into us. It is the word of God that will renew our minds and transform us with the Spirit’s help. There is nothing else in the world that can do that. When we faithfully preach the word of God, the saints of God are hearing the voice of God through the word. What an amazing thought that we have the words of God Himself handed down to us. And what a tragedy it is when the word of God is not proclaimed! When the church is not fed with the word, spiritual malnourishment and atrophy quickly begin to set in.

I ask myself often, what is biblical preaching and teaching? What is it not? I have observed over the years that there is a type of preaching that seems biblical at first glance but is actually not very biblical at all. This type of preaching (and teaching) gives a nod to the word of God, and then goes its own way. It is a type of preaching that only uses the Bible to prove what we think we already know. There is very little actual listening to God. There is very little dealing with the text and wrestling with its meaning. The listeners can come away with a good feeling that “God agrees with us,” but we never carefully listened to what God said. We didn’t sit at His feet to listen in humility. Instead, we passed over the scripture like a stone skipping over the water.

To those who preach and teach among us: let us heed the solemn charge of God. Preach the word! To all of us who assemble to hear the word of God proclaimed (myself included): cherish the word of God and take it into your heart. May God bless us all in this endeavor.

—Scott Colvin

To What are You Being Conformed?

May 5, 2023

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance…” (1 Peter 1:14 NAS95)

We all struggle with our former lusts—those evil desires that we lived in before we came to Jesus. It is true that we will always face temptation in this life. But temptation is not sin. The problem comes when we indulge in those lusts, when we entertain them, toy with them, and let them reign over us again.

The great danger with fleshly lusts is that we can be conformed to them. The word conformed means to be molded or shaped by something. Think of molten metal being shaped by the mold it is poured into. The metal is formed, shaped, and constrained by the steel dies. In a similar way, we must understand that sinful lusts will mold, shape, and constrain our souls. We may not even realize it is happening, but over time, these lusts will shape our thinking, our attitudes, our outlook, and our interactions with others. Just like steel dies constrain molten metal, evil desires will prevent us from taking the beautiful form that God intends for us to take. Engaging in sinful desires will prevent us from realizing all the wonderful blessings that come from being shaped by the Master.

So, instead of being conformed to our former lusts, what should we do? The next verse says, “… but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior…” (1 Peter 1:15 NAS95) Let us put aside our lusts, our old way of thinking, our old life, and allow ourselves to be poured into God’s mold. We can do just that by pursuing and practicing holiness in all our behavior. Yes, we will fall short at times, we will get tripped up at times by those sinful lusts, but we must press on toward holiness of life. As we do so, God will form us into something wonderful! He will shape us into the image of Himself and of His beloved Son. And as we are conformed to His holiness, He will bring the richest blessings into our lives.

What are you being molded by? What shape is your life taking? May we decide today to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

—Scott Colvin

Our God is Full of Compassion

April 29, 2023

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled.” (Hosea 11:8 NAS95)

These words of tender compassion were spoken by God about His own people. The children of Israel had spurned God again and again. They were obsessed with rebelling against Him. God called them out of Egypt to bless them, but the more He called, the more they turned away from Him. God was like a loving father to them. He took them in His arms. He taught them how to walk. (Hosea 11:3) God showed nothing but kindness to Israel, yet they refused to turn to Him or honor Him. What could God do? What choice did the people leave Him? God would send the sword of the Assyrians upon His people. They would face His wrath.

But though God’s fierce anger was aroused, it’s amazing to realize that His heart was still full of compassion. His heart was “turned over within Him.” What an insight this verse gives us into the heart of God! Our God is full of compassion! He is full of mercy! Even though these ungrateful people were bent on rejecting Him, He still had compassion for them. What a merciful, wonderful God we serve!

Does the mercy of God touch your heart? How should His mercy and compassion affect us? First, it should drive us to offering up our lives to Him. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1 NAS95) Those who think little of His mercy will not be interested in offering up their lives to Him. Second, the mercy and compassion of God should drive us to being merciful and compassionate toward others. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Colossians 3:12–13 NAS95)

Let us reflect today upon the tender mercy of God as shown to us in Jesus Christ. Let us not be obstinate like the children of Israel but may the mercy of God drive us into His loving arms. May His mercy drive us to showing mercy to everyone around us.

—Scott Colvin

Our God is a Consuming Fire

April 21, 2023

I heard a radio advertisement the other day inviting people to visit a church in this area. In the ad, the preacher happily announced that God is just like your dog—loyal, good-natured, and friendly to the end. This seeming lack of reverence smacked me right in the face. God is not like your dog! Our God is a consuming fire!

I fear that the people of God have developed an unbalanced picture of Him. We need to understand both the kindness and severity of God. (Romans 11:22) The fear of God is very necessary and helpful for us. It was greatly beneficial for the children of Israel in the time of Moses. They were struck with fear when the Lord came down to Mount Sinai to give the Law, as we read in the book of Exodus: “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder.” (Exodus 19:16-19 NASB95)

Can you imagine the fear that must have gripped the Israelites as the entire mountain smoked and quaked? Can you picture yourself there and feel the reverence and awesome respect for God Almighty? Can you see the benefit of such a fear of the Lord? The people said to Moses, “‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:19-20 NASB95) The fear of the Lord is necessary because it will keep us from sin. Of course, those walking faithfully with Christ do not need to fear the punishment of God, but we still must have an awesome respect for who He is. We must understand His hatred of sin. We must have a healthy dread of displeasing the One who holds our lives, and the entire universe in His hands.

We need to remember that the God that we read about in the time of Moses is the same God that we serve today. The covenant may have changed, but God has not changed. Do we realize who it is that we are dealing with? Do we realize who is speaking to us? We need to approach the throne with reverence and with awe this Lord’s Day, “for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29)

—Scott Colvin

Lamb of God

April 18, 2023

I love to sing Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God.” If you have a songbook handy, you may want to reread the words to this great hymn. It’s one of those songs that can send a chill up and down your spine because of the powerful lyrics. Out of 37 occurrences of the word “lamb” in the New Testament, 33 refer to Jesus.* The lamb of God is a major New Testament theme.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist announces “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (ESV)!” His words are certainly prophetic—pointing to what Jesus was going to do in dying on the cross. His words also resonated with the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb’s blood spared Israel from the last plague and led to the deliverance from slavery. Jesus is called our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words also contain reminders of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. As Hebrews notes, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). So it is not surprising to hear Peter speak of being redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

John’s words may also point back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. A number of New Testament passages link this prophecy to Jesus (e.g., 1 Peter 2:22).

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7, ESV

And it is clear that this one like a lamb brings about forgiveness for others.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5, ESV

In fact one of the most striking aspects of John the Baptist’s statement is that unlike the Passover Lamb and the Old Testament sacrifices, this lamb of God is for all—“the sin of the world.”

The greatest number of occurrences of the word, “lamb,” referring to Jesus is in Revelation. “Lamb” occurs 28 times in Revelation.* This brings an additional thought to the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—VICTORY. It is in Revelation that we see the Lamb in heaven receiving praise (5:12). The redeemed sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3). We also learn about the “marriage of the Lamb” (19:7) and “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), that is the church.

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, fulfills the Old Testament prophecy and hope. He provides the once and for all sacrifice for sin, and He is the victorious Lamb who sits upon the throne. With the hymn, it is easy to exclaim in praise, “O Lamb of God!”

—Russ Holden

*Amnos meaning “lamb” occurs 4x with all of its NT occurrences referring to Jesus. Arnion, another Greek term for lamb, occurs 30 times with 28 of them referring to Jesus. Pascha is the Greek term for Passover. Of its 29 occurrences, three of them refer to the Passover lamb (with the word, lamb, being understood from context), and one of those three refers to Jesus (1 Cor. 5:7).

*Word count based on the Greek word, arnion. English word counts may vary because the word, Lamb, may be supplied where the Greek literally has “he” (e.g., 6:7, 9 and 8:1).

“What an Empty Tomb Can Do”

April 8, 2023

How odd that his enemies understood him better than his friends! His enemies placed a guard and sealed the tomb. His friends ran away. One denied him three times. At first reports, they regarded it as nonsense and did not believe (Luke 24:11). They didn’t understand the scripture (John 20:9). They were afraid of the Jews (20:19). Their hearts were hard (Mark 16:14). In a sonnet, D.A. Carson captures the mood:

No heroes, these: defeated followers all,
  Their nurtured faith extinguished, snuffed the flame
  Of courage. Quite abandoned now the game
  Oneupmanship (“Not I, Lord; I’ll not fall!”),
  Displaced by furtive fear’s disabling pall.
  More crippling than the sickening fear, the shame;
  And cowed by common cowardice, they came
  Upstairs together, spiritually mauled.
    Reports come in of shattered, vanquished Death,
    Of Life’s appearance in triumphant mood.
    Begins the birth of hope, the death of death,
    Of failing, faithless men with faith endued.
Arranged of old, unqualifiedly new:
Such change is what an empty tomb can do.*

Their unbelief, cowardice, and misunderstanding are hardly résumé enhancements for religious leaders. Their unflattering testimony about themselves is unlikely to have been made up. So, how do we account for the dramatic change in their lives from cowards hiding from the Jews to courageous proclaimers of the resurrection of Jesus. C.F.D. Moule stated it this way:

If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?

The explanation for the change from “old” to “unqualifiedly new” is best explained by “what an empty tomb can do.” Jesus was raised from the dead.

But the “unqualifiedly new” of the Apostles and early Christians was no minor affair. The dramatic event of the resurrection brought a dynamically different life in the disciples. The New Testament can talk about crucifying the old self, putting on the new self, and newness of life. That’s spiritual major surgery not a Band-Aid. Jesus was not a religious good luck charm to be dragged out of the drawer a couple of times year. Jesus became their life and their Lord. What about in your life? “Such change is what an empty tomb can do.”

*D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century (Baker Books, 1994), p. 67.