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Academically Excellent, Christ-Centered.

A Blog from the Director of Spiritual Formation

I was just thinking...

New Year's Reflections and Resolutions

January 10, 2018
By David Monreal

My favorite New Years’ Resolution states, “I resolve to keep all the resolutions I made last New Year’s.” That pretty much sums it up for many of us. Maybe you’re like me, I wrestle with the idea of making New Year’s resolutions for a number of reasons, not least of which is how few of them I have managed to keep over the years. Does turning the calendar really make a difference? Isn’t January 1st just another day? Should we even bother making vows we probably won’t keep?

Resolution failures remind me of how impotent I am to change myself by sheer willpower and how weak I am to follow through on my commitments. Ultimately, my failures remind me how much I need Jesus. Left to myself, far from being a promise keeper, I am a promise breaker! God gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who believes in Jesus and it the Spirit who gives me the strength to do what I can never do on my own. My resolution failures don’t tell me to quit wanting change in my life, they tell me to quit trying to effect change on my own. We are weak but He is strong! (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:6-10) With God, real lasting change is possible!

What types of changes do we want to see? Many of our resolutions revolve around our health. I am going to stop eating fried foods. I am going to work out five days a week. I am going to lose 25 pounds. (Wait a minute, those are my resolutions!) But more than your physical fitness, how is your spiritual health? The Bible reminds us, “For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 CSB) Just like we want to physically train, Paul says, “Train yourself in godliness.” (v. 7)

It is good to periodically stop and take an inventory of your life and reflect on how you’re doing. Whether it is your birthday, an anniversary, or even a New Year, those reviews can help you see where you have been and better determine where you think you should be going. As you prayerfully consider these things maybe you will conclude that God wants you to just, “Keep on keeping on.” However, it might reveal that you are spiritually flabby and atrophy has set into your spiritual muscles. Let me conclude by priming the pump with a few suggestions:

  1. By God’s grace, I resolve to read God’s Word daily.
  2. By God’s grace, I resolve to pray for others and myself daily.
  3. By God's grace, I resolve to attend a gospel-preaching church weekly.
  4. By God’s grace, I resolve to intentionally connect with a few godly believers every week.
  5. By God’s grace, I resolve to put God’s will above my own will or the desires of others.

It’s no longer New Year’s Day, but it isn’t too late to go before God and ask him for the grace and strength to move in new directions! - Dave

Do I have to thank God for evil?

November 17, 2017
By David Monreal

“In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB)

There are verses that cause us problems because they are hard to understand. Then there are verses that give us grief because they seem so straightforward. Does the Bible teach that we must be thankful for everything that happens in our lives, whether good or bad? Must we thank God for the cancer diagnosis? Must we give thanks for the miscarriage or the birth defect? If our house burns down should we not be upset or sad, but rather grateful?

Another familiar passage can easily be misunderstood. Paul writes, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God…” (Romans 8:28) Does this mean that we should deny evil? Should we look at tragedy and say, “Really, you must not see this as natural evil or caused by sin, because all things are good”? Are we to deny the reality of evil and see everything only through the lens of goodness?

It is understandable how people could misinterpret these verses and misunderstand how they apply to the Christian life. Let me illustrate what I believe the Bible is saying through the very familiar story of Joseph found in Genesis 37-50. In jealousy, his brothers conspire to kill him but decide to sell him into slavery instead. He is carried off to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. His master’s wife tries to seduce him, when she is rebuffed, she accuses him of trying to rape her and Joseph is wrongly imprisoned. He is left to rot for years completely forgotten. Several years later he helps interpret the dreams of two men, one man is executed and the other is restored to his previous post as Pharaoh’s cupbearer. For two years he is forgotten until Pharaoh has a dream no one can interpret, then the cupbearer remembers Joseph and he is summoned to interpret. There would be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine.

Overnight, Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He guides Egypt to store food during the prosperous years to have supplies during the famine. When his real family runs out of food, they come to Egypt hoping to buy some. Inevitably, they stand before Joseph not realizing who he really is! Joseph confronts them, but not in the way we might expect. “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5) If one were to stop reading the story here, he might think that Joseph overlooks their evil actions. Does Joseph not think what they did was sinful and wrong? Later he confronts his brothers saying, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

What do we make of this? First, Joseph recognized that what his brothers did to him was evil. The intent of their actions was to do harm to him. However, God is so big and powerful, that He uses the very evil that they (and others) committed to accomplish His will. God’s hand of Providence was guiding even the evil they intended, to accomplish His good purpose. Joseph did not need to deny evil or pretend that the sins committed against him were actually good. It was wrong. It was sin. It should not have happened. He did not have to embrace evil or be thankful for it.

Secondly, in the midst of suffering and struggle, he could see God’s good hand guiding and using those events for His glory and for good through Joseph. It was God’s good purpose to permit these things to happen. He could be thankful for this! In reflection, he could see that his life was not “a series of unfortunate events.” He could see that life was not random and meaningless. (That does not mean he figured this all out while he was going through it!) He could call evil out for what it is. He could also see the hand of God working in and through his circumstances. While he was suffering, he remained faithful. He clung to God in the dark dungeon. Life is not easy, yet he could reflect on all God’s good purposes and be thankful. Not thankful for suffering and evil, but thankful that God was at work through it all.

As Christians, we can be both realistic and optimistic. We should fight against injustice and call out evil for what it is. We do not have to ignore evil or pretend it is not real. Nevertheless, in all circumstances, we can remain grateful that God has a purpose in suffering and He means to use it for good.

Why be part of a church?

October 02, 2017
By David Monreal

Dear Judah Family,

I realize that some of you may have no idea who I am so let me reintroduce myself. My name is David Monreal and I serve here at Judah Christian School as the Director of Spiritual Formation. I also have the privilege of teaching the 7th and 8th grade Bible classes. About every three or four weeks (sometimes more), I will post a blog on the Judah website.

So, what’s been on my mind lately? Honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about church. By that I mean, why do I go? Why do I bother? Why do I think it is important in the life of a Christian? Why make it a priority to “go to church” every Sunday? Here are my top 21 reasons in no particular order. I will keep each reason brief.

1.  God commands it. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

2.  To be the “Body” of Christ we must be with people unlike ourselves (family doesn’t count). (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)

3.  It was the practice of the early church to gather every Sunday in honor of the resurrection. Every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday! (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2)

4.  Collectively, the church is the “Temple of God” the place where His presence dwells in a special way. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

5.  We are called to corporate worship, which we cannot do if we are by ourselves or on the golf course. (Colossians 3:16, cf. Ephesians 5:18-19)

6.  We collectively come under the hearing of God’s preached word to be equipped for ministry. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

7.  We come under the care of elders/pastors. (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:1-3)

8.  It is through the local church that we celebrate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30)

9.  We are protected from false teaching and heresy through the oversight of the elders/pastors. (Acts 20:28-32)

10.  God commands us to minister to one another. (see all the “one another” passages in the New Testament. You cannot do those alone. )

11.  If we are not connected to a local church, who is going to pick us up if we fall? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; Galatians 6:1)

12.  Who is going to confront you if you are involved in serious sin or pursue you if you wander away from the faith? (Matthew 18:15-17; James 5:19-20)

13.  It is within the Body of Christ that we pray for each other and confess our sins to one another. (James 5:13-16)

14.  Who will share with you when you are in need? (Galatians 6:10; 2:10)

15.  It is through the ministry of the church that we are called to live outside of ourselves and pursue the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)

16.  It is within the Church family that we learn compassion, generosity, mercy, and forgiveness. (Colossians 3:12-15)

17.  It is the elders of the church that teach us sound doctrine and call us back into balance when we start to major on the minors or fall into theological error. (Titus 1:7-9)

18.  The church is an outpost of God’s kingdom and a foretaste of heaven. (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:9-10) The church is God’s “called out” ones.

19.  It is within the fellowship of the local church that we sharpen one another. (Proverbs 27:17)

20.  We need others to preach the gospel to us to remind us of God’s grace and forgiveness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

21.  God has rescued us from our sins and placed us into the Body of Christ so that we will minister to each other. (Romans 12:4-8)

Can you think of other reasons to be a part of a local church? Let me know!

The entire New Testament presupposes that as a believer we will be a part of a local church body. It was never conceived that, as a believer, we would not be a part of a local church. All of the books of the New Testament were written to churches or collections of churches. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto (and Tim Hanks had Wilson). What is more important to our spiritual life than being an active part of a local church for worship, evangelism, and discipleship?

One final thought, our choices and priorities speak volumes to our children. If our spiritual life is a priority and they see us worshipping and serving in the local church, it will impress upon them that pursuing God is central to our lives. If our children don't grow up being a part of a local church, they will understand the concept of Christianity they learn at a Christian School, but they will not see the reality of Christianity that is only found with God’s people in the life of the Body.

Word of the Day - Propitiation

April 13, 2017
By David Monreal

Word of the Day – Propitiation

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2 ESV emphasis added)

Huh? What does that mean? Great question! I think that some words are so important and so precise that we do well to learn them rather than just try to rephrase it using other words. “Propitiation” is one of those words! As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, this is a word I encourage you to add to your vocabulary (If it is not already there, of course!).

The ESV Study Bible notes define it this way, “Propitiation (Gk. hilasmos) here means ‘a sacrifice that bears God's wrath and turns it to favor,” and that is also the meaning of the English word ‘propitiation.’” Some translations will use the phrase, “atoning sacrifice” which is an approximate translation of the word. However, the word is much more vivid and graphic than this translation gives.

Some people do not like the word because it implies that God is a “God of wrath.” But, in fact, this is exactly what the Bible does teach. Before we go too far, let us answer the question, what is God’s wrath? God’s wrath is his righteous anger and judgment over sin and sinners who sin. When we think of wrath, it is usually in connection to sinful anger. However, God is perfectly just and His anger over sin is always completely accurate, righteous, and proportionate. He will only give people what they deserve in judgment and no more.

The Apostle Paul writes, “…among whom we all once lived [Paul includes himself and all his readers!] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV note and emphasis added) Left to ourselves we were also under the just judgment of God and would receive the due penalty for our sins!

The Bible often talks about the cup of God’s wrath. Psalm 75:7-8 state, “but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” (ESV) Interestingly, Jesus used this exact imagery in the Garden of Gethsemane. “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:39 ESV emphasis added) What cup was Jesus referring to? He was about to experience the undiluted wrath of God being poured out upon Him for sin! All of the punishment that you and I deserve for our sin, He bore on the cross on our behalf! Consider this; Jesus saved us from God, for God, so we could be with God!

As horrific as the physical beating was for Jesus, that was not the true horror and anguish of the cross. The true anguish was Jesus experiencing the full penalty for sin to pay for all those throughout human history that will ever place their trust in Him. 100% of our punishment was concentrated and poured out on Christ while He hung on the cross! This is why he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” THE ONLY TIME JESUS DOES NOT CALL GOD “FATHER” IS ON THE CROSS! Why? Because, in some mysterious way, that goes beyond our full comprehension, He was experiencing the separation over sin that would be ours, if He had not taken our place. Therefore, the wrath that we deserve was turned aside and poured out on Jesus instead.

May propitiation not only be a word in your vocabulary, may it be the reality of your life! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

I leave you with the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns.

And Can it Be?
Charles Wesley (1738)

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love Divine!
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

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