So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ~ Isaiah 55:11

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why, Even The Demons Believe!

**Editor's Note**  Today's guest blogger is my son, Steven Toepfer.  Steven stays busy as a sophomore at Oakland City University by studying to complete a Business major and developing his thespian skills in the drama department. He has contributed some of his devotional material to this blog over the last several posts. This will be the last post in this particular series. I hope you find it encouraging.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever
 believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
~John 3:16~
           You're probably wondering why I chose John 3:16, arguably one of the most well-known verses of the Bible. One of my friends mentioned it jokingly offhand as a topic, but I dismissed it with a laugh. But the more I got to thinking of it, the more I realized that its popularity made it an appropriate choice. Growing up, I believe this was the first verse I was taught and memorized, which I believe is true for most other people. Don't get me wrong, this verse is crucial and an excellent starting point for people being exposed to the Bible and Christianity for the first time. But for those who don't accept Christianity or just don't read their Bible, this will probably be one of the only ones they'll remember. But only a piece of the puzzle won't help you solve it.
            I guess some think that since this verse is so stressed, it becomes the core of the Bible and theology. But the Bible clearly states that the fullness of time was marked by the life, death, and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. John 3:16 states that God gave His Son, but what does that even mean? It makes no mention of His life, His divine perfection, His sacrifice for our iniquity, nor His miraculous resurrection from the dead and His promise to return to the earth for judgment. Without further knowledge of God and His Son, how can we truly believe?
Jesus casts a demon out of a boy in Mark 9.
            This brings us to the next part: belief.  James 2:19 says, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." Here is the opposite end of the spectrum. James is talking to the Jews in the verse, questioning them on their doctrine. He congratulated them because they knew the right stuff; they had studied and developed their orthodox doctrine and had, metaphorically speaking, gone beyond John 3:16. But he was, in fact, sarcastic and pointed out that even the demons believed in that same thing. Hence, affirming orthodox doctrine is no proof of saving faith. Last December, there was a poll taken about religion with results showing 77% of U.S. adults considering themselves to be Christians. Well, that doesn't sound right; four out of five people I meet daily don't seem Christian. I think that's because they believe they are, but as I mentioned before, belief is not enough. Belief is a characterization of faith, not the other way around. I may believe in trees, but I certainly don't have faith in them. And that is the important distinction to make. It is faith in Jesus Christ and His life, atonement, resurrection and return characterized by belief but also godly actions, words, and motives. So, why doesn't John 3:16 say all that? Because it is only one verse out of God's Book which is meant to be read and understood in its entirety.
            Dear God, I just want to thank You for "so loving the world" and that You would withhold the wrath we deserve, by giving Your Son to us, so that through His death, we might live in eternity with You. But that paradise comes only from a genuine faith in You, a willingness to forgo all sin, to make You our guide and our purpose, and to model ourselves after the perfect life of Your Son.  Belief is a necessary part of our salvation, Lord, and I ask, just as the father of the boy with the unclean spirit did, for You to help our unbelief and mold it into a saving faith in You.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Paradox of Love and Intolerance

**Editor's Note** Today's guest blogger is my son, Steven Toepfer. Steven stays busy as a sophomore at Oakland City University by studying to complete a Business major and developing his thespian skills in the drama department. He will be contributing some of his devotional material to this blog over the next several posts. I hope you find them encouraging.

These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
John 15:17
             As I mentioned last week, one of the most common ways to respond to an expression of unpopular opinion or a correction of sinful behavior was the phrase-to-end-all-phrases, "The Bible says you are supposed to love one another." This is many peoples' ace-in-the-hole argument-ender that's supposed to solve all conflict and destroy this "self-righteous intolerance" plaguing our society today.  Don't get me wrong:  The Bible does say to love one another; it says it so many times that I lost count. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself! But in my research of it, I came across this verse, which I believe marks the distinction of where we went wrong. First John 2:15 says, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." We're loving the world. First John 4:8 says "God is love." So if you don't have God, you don't have love, or at least the correct definition of it. Since God is love, and God is the absence of sin, logically we can assume that true love demands the absence of sin. So tolerating the very opposite of what love is, is logically not love.
            1 Corinthians 13:4-8a says, "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." These are the qualities of love and consequently of God. This cannot be applied to the world; how could it? God commands us to love one another, but He also says in 1 Peter 1:22 that we can't show sincere love to our brethren unless we purify our souls in obedience to truth. And truth isn't tolerance for sin, but the unveiling of what sin really is. In a few verses preceding this week's verse, Jesus actually expands a bit and says, "Love one another, just as I have loved you." And in a few verses preceding that in verse 10, He says, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love." As a result, loving one another mandates that we continue to keep His commandments, even at the cost of friendships or popularity, but especially at the cost of tolerance. 
From John 4, Jesus confronts the woman at the well, then offers her eternal life.
            With the approaching Easter holiday in mind, we can see the full display of love in the following passage. First John 4:7-14 says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this, we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the World."
            Lord, to learn to love is no easy task. The concept spans the entirety of Your Word and the life of Your Son. Let both of those guide us and reveal to us what love really is so that we don't succumb to the world's false teachings, for the world can't demonstrate true love.  As Easter comes around, let it remind us daily of what true love looks like.  A love that is compassionate to all, regardless of distinction, but not afraid to denounce what we know in our hearts to be wrong. Your Word describes it better than I ever could:  “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”1 Amen.
                1Philippians 2:5-11

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Necessity of Judgment

**Editor's Note** Today's guest blogger is my son, Steven Toepfer. Steven stays busy as a sophomore at Oakland City University by studying to complete a Business major and developing his thespian skills in the drama department. He will be contributing some of his devotional material to this blog over the next several posts. I hope you find them encouraging.

 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Matthew 7:1
            If you'll remember, my theme for the rest of my posts as “guest blogger” during this month and next is commonly misused, misquoted, and taken-out-of-context scriptures. A couple years ago, a youth leader asked me what I thought the most familiar Bible verse was among secular groups. I thought about it, and answered, "Uh, John 3:16?" She smiled and said I was close, but it was more likely this verse, Matthew 7:1, or more specifically, Matthew 7:1a, "Judge not." I don't believe I need to tell you how dangerous it is to have the entirety of the Bible and use only two words. But sadly, it still occurs, and it runs rampantly thought the media, schools, and even some churches. The thing is, most people don't even know what it means to judge. Earlier this semester, I was talking to a bright, young man about the concept of judging. When I asked what he thought it meant, he said that it was to form an opinion, to put a label on something, to describe something based on sight. I then pointed at the wall and said, "This wall is white. So, I've effectively judged the wall?" He said no, and I asked him why not. I had formed an opinion, put a label on it (white), and had described it based on sight. He smiled a little and said that he guessed he needed to change his definition of judging.
The Sinful Woman Caught in Adultery in John 8
            So what is the correct definition? Well, if we look beyond the context of two words, we can see that judgment actually has multiple forms. In John 7:24, it says, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." To judge according to appearance meant to pronounce guilt or innocence based on harshness, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. This is evidenced in verses 3-5 of Matthew chapter 7. The friend had a log in his eye, but would rather point out the specks in others than recognize his own impairment. This is what Jesus was commanding us not to do. And we can avoid it if we exercise judgment with careful discernment, making sure that we are not succumbing to the very things we speak against. In order to fulfill the commandments  given to us and to spread the Gospel to others, we cannot help but point out the errors of others' ways, but it's extremely important how we do it. When they say it is not your place to judge but God's, remind yourselves and them, that He has. If we would just take the time to look beyond "Judge not," we would see how God has judged in the past based on the same sinfulness that plagues us now. God has judged the world, but He has given us hope and the answer. His word contains the life of Jesus Christ, our true measuring stick. And there is no log in His eye. 

             Lord, I pray for clarity through Your Word. With careful study and discernment, help us to glean the truth from the Bible and not suffer the perversion of twisted Scripture. Give us the courage to speak out about the truth. In our day and age, Christians are constantly persecuted for what others deem to be hateful, narrow-minded mentalities. They demand tolerance for their actions, and the sad thing is, we give it to them. Some of us have declared Your Word outdated and have pushed for attitudes of equality and love. But tolerance isn't love, Lord. To allow someone to continue with their sinfulness by not speaking up is not compassion, but sentencing them to their fate. Love is displayed by showing people what will be the consequences of their actions; to spare them from the worst fate. Give us the courage to tell them, Lord, but I also pray that we do so with our eyes log- and speck-free. If the people of the world see us committing the same atrocities as themselves, they will see us as nothing else but a reflection of themselves. Please give us insight into our own errors as well as those of others, and the authority to exercise righteous judgment. I ask all of these things in Your Son's name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Understanding "All Things"

**Editor's Note** Today's guest blogger is my son, Steven Toepfer. Steven stays busy as a sophomore at Oakland City University by studying to complete a Business major and developing his thespian skills in the drama department. He will be contributing some of his devotional material to this blog over the next several posts. I hope you find them encouraging.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~Philippians 4:13~

      For the next several blog posts, my Scripture reading theme will be centered on commonly misused, misquoted, and taken-out-of-context verses and how to explain them a bit more thoroughly.
      I don't know about you, but I've heard this verse a multitude of times. It's been overused mostly by the sporting industry, some believing that if you write it on a shoe, you'll jump higher, run faster, or get stronger. Don't get me wrong; it's a great verse. It's just not always as applicable as we'd like to think.
      First, I want to point out the word “can.” In my family, if you ask the question, “Can I do this thing?” they answer with, “I don't know; can you?” That's very unhelpful, by the way. But it proves an excellent point: Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you may do it. The same is true with this verse. We can do all things through Christ, but that doesn't mean He'll do all things through us. He is the source of all our accomplishments, but we are the vessel of His will. We will undoubtedly accomplish what He has set out for us to do, but our own desires, such as running faster or winning the lottery, may not fall under that category. Sorry.
      Secondly, we need to understand the context of the verse. Before the section and afterwards, Paul discusses being content in any circumstance. He said in verse 12, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both having abundance and suffering need.” Paul said these things after the church of Philippi expressed their concern for his health and financial state. And it was here that Paul said that Christ had given him the strength to do all things, to withstand both extremes of the material spectrum: Both prosperity and destitution.

Paul Tells Felix About Christ in Acts 24

      This explanation isn't meant to make you feel weaker or more insecure with yourself. Our God was, is, and always will be an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly compassionate being, but it's important to realize that, ultimately, He is the one in control. He does work through us in miraculous ways, but our ways aren't always His. He does give us strength, but not always to conquer. Sometimes we can only withstand, nothing more. But thankfully, that's enough.

Dear Lord, We come to You today with thankfulness. Thankfulness that You choose to work through us, to show us what You are truly capable of. But sometimes that doesn't satisfy our wants. We pray, we desire to literally do all things, Lord. But do we desire to do them through You? You are our source of strength, so that when we fall, You are still there to stand. Give us the patience and contentment to withstand all circumstances. In poverty or wealth, sickness or health, we should rejoice in You knowing that You will provide. Bless us with ears to hear and the understanding to grasp what is being truly taught in Your word. I ask all of these things in Your Son's name. Amen.