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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Miss Many Meals?

(This is a bit late today because my schedule was all goobered up and I am recovering from one of the worst sinus infections I have ever had – and that is saying something.)

I work through an old copy of the Book of Common Prayer during my quiet times.  I am not Episcopal, nor do I have Episcopal leanings – not sure what those would be.  An Episcopal priest gave it to me at a wedding I was in back in the 70’s.  I work through the morning and not very often the evening readings on a fairly regular basis.  I find the connections between the passages that were assembled in 1549 interesting.  Sometimes I see the thread they were following.  Often the passages chosen 463 years ago speak exactly to the issues I am facing.  I find that connection to those who have plowed the same ground in this journey not only encouraging but also humbling at a deeply significant level.  But that is not what I was going to write about…
Eating the Word is like applying it to our lives...
Today took me to Ezekiel 2:1 – 3:3 (I added the last three verses – have always been a bit of a rebel.)  I was overwhelmed by the passage and thrown into about three others as I was working my way through the passage, namely Jeremiah 15:16; Ezra 7:10; and Job 23:12 (the notes from my journal are in the picture).

The attitude of these men toward God’s Word is an ever deepening challenge.  The imagery of Ezekiel 3:3 and Jeremiah 15:16 are nearly identical, and they are a close approximation of the sequence in which Ezra followed in 7:10.  What you eat becomes that of which your body consists.  That is a strong image of Ezra’s “practice.”  That brings us to Job…

Most of us reading Job 23:12, at least me, react with cynical incredulity.  Right, the Bible is more important than eating.  Not just snacks.  The food I need to survive, the necessary stuff.  It is like offering a malnourished man about to die 2 Timothy – and his response is deep, joyful, sincere gratitude.

I thought I loved the Word.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Discipleship Summary

For the past 12 days we have been working through a series of posts that deal with a top level examination of what a disciple looks like.  If you have read the about section of this blog you will know that my wife and I were with the Navigators for about a decade.  What we have looked at over the past days has essentially been the Wheel illustration with some modifications.
The Wheel is a great summary of what it means to live as a disciple.
The vertical spokes, the Word and Prayer, deal with our relationship with God.  The horizontal spokes, fellowship and witnessing, our relationship with our fellow man.  The rim represents our response to Christ who is the hub of the wheel.

The illustration is a good one that has from time to time been used in ways that are not so useful.  I have been guilty of that.  There was a time when I would have people grade the different spokes to see if their wheels were in balance.  I learned that from others who shared the same process.

There are a number of problems with that approach.  Most problematic is that it tends to focus one on their work rather than the work of the Holy Spirit and their completed position in Christ.  That approach to the wheel can make the spokes the ends rather than the means to appropriate what Christ has already accomplished in and for us.  I love and still use the illustration, but I share it in much the same way I have shared it here, as a way to quickly communicate the means God has provided for us to understand and grow in our appropriation of our position in Christ.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Holy Spirit and Discipleship - Continued

(Continued from Yesterday) Third, in Romans 8:26 – 27, Paul tells us that the Spirit helps us know what to pray.  Stop and think through that for a minute.  Matter of fact turn away from this and pick up your Bible, a pen, and your journal or a blank sheet of paper and take a few minutes to write out what that means, how that impacts you.
We are dependent on the Holy Spirit for prayer, our contribution to the Body, sharing our faith, and our ability to obey.

For me the notion that my Creator not only invites me to talk directly to Him but is also directing me in how to best come to Him, is more than I can comprehend.  It causes me to react much like Isaiah and John when they were allowed a peek into the throne room (Isaiah 6:5 and Revelation 4 & 5).

Fourth, the Spirit builds the Body of Christ.  In 1 Corinthians 12:11 – 13, Paul tells us, through the Holy Spirit, that it is the Spirit that distributes the gifts in the body as He wills.  The Spirit works in each of us, Romans 12:6, gifting us for the purpose of building one another up in the faith, Ephesians 4:14 – 16.  This gifting is one of the foundations for the unity that is supposed to be in the Church.

Fifth, in sharing our faith with others it is the Spirit that gives us the Words to say, Luke 12:11 – 12, and is using those words to effect the outcome in those with whom we are speaking, John 16:8.  Even in our dealing with one another in disagreements or conflicts we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to help us sort those out, Paul reinforces this in 2 Timothy 2:24 - 25.

Lastly, in the area of obedience, Philippians 1:6; 2:13, we read that our obedience is the work of God.  It is not specifically stated here that this is through the Holy Spirit.  However, with all of the other passages that deal with His work in our life, it is not inappropriate to see the Spirit here.

This should take the striving out of discipleship.  Psalm 46:10 tells us we are to cease that ineffective action.  Hebrews 3 & 4 expands that by telling us we are to enter into God’s rest.

What awesome grace we have been given in Christ.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

We have invested the past 10 days looking at what the Bible says a disciple is.  We have seen the disciplines that disciples follow are only effective when they are focused on an insatiable desire to know Christ.  But how do we do we maintain that focus?  How can we be sure that we are motivated correctly and are actually following Him?  Enter the Holy Spirit.
We are dependent on the Holy Spirit in discipleship in our desire to follow Christ and our ability to understand His Word.
In each of the disciplines we covered in the past 10 days the Spirit plays an indispensable, critical role in the disciple’s life.  For the next couple of days we will explore the Spirit's role in each of the areas we have examined together.

First is the initial requirement to follow Christ.  In John 16:8 – 10, Christ tells us that the Spirit is the one who convicts men of their need for Christ.  He is the one that draws men to Christ.  Without the Spirit’s intervention the eyes of those in bondage are blind to their need for Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:3.  The Spirit pierces that darkness.

Secondly, the Spirit enables us to know Christ thru the truth of His Word.  In the same chapter of John, Christ tells us in verses 12 – 14 the Spirit will lead us into all truth.  That makes sense, the Spirit inspired the Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:14 – 17, 2 Peter 1:20 – 21.

Continued.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What is a Disciple - 9

Yesterday we said that just because one is doing all of the activities of a disciple that does not necessarily mean that they are one.  I asked you to think through why that might be.  Do not know if anyone responded, I am on a backpacking trip in Arkansas and my son is publishing this for me…  But here is my answer to the question I posed.  The difference is the motivation behind what I am doing.


Look again at Philippians 3, specifically at verses 7 – 17.  The total focus of Paul was to know Christ.  He was the center of Paul’s existence, nothing else mattered.  We saw yesterday that when Paul was a Pharisee he did all of the things we have looked at in the last days that a disciple does, spent time in the Word, prayed, was engaged in a committed community, was involved in bringing others into that community, and was obedient to the Word as he understood it.  But he counted all that as loss, verse 7.  After he met Christ on the road, I would submit to you that he did all of the same things but that his reason had changed.  Rather than seeking to fulfill a religious obligation, he was driving hard to get to know Christ.  He was using those same activities to understand the fullness of what Christ had already done for him.  Take a quick look at the sister letter to Philippians, Colossians 2:6 – 10.  Note what Paul states that his, our, condition in Christ to be, complete.

If we are complete in Christ, then what is the value of the disciplines we have explored in the past few days?  May I suggest that they are the means by which we discover and appropriate what Christ has already accomplished for us.

Grasping that will turn your Christian life upside down.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What is a Disciple - 8

For the past eight days we have been attempting to discover from the Bible what a disciple is.  We started down this path because of the Lord’s command to make disciples.  We have not looked at this exhaustively, really cannot in three paragraphs a day.  We have painted with some rather large brush strokes a picture that a disciple is a follower of Christ, who is steeped in His Word, has an intentional prayer life, is engaged in a world focused community, is sharing his love for Christ for others, and is obedient to Christ.  So if one is doing all of those things, does that make one a disciple?
No.

These are not checklist items.  This is not a spiritual do list.  In fact there were people in the Bible who were doing all of these activities that Christ rebuked and told them that they were seeking glory for themselves – read John 5:39 – 42.  Here Christ was speaking to the leaders of the Jews, Pharisees.  These folks had the first five books of the Bible memorized – steeped in the word, they prayed every day, they were engaged in an intense community, they were actively involved in proselytizing, and they took obedience to a new level, read Paul’s description of his life as a Pharisee in Philippians 3:1 – 6.

But you say, the Bible says we are to do all of these things.  Yes it does.  So what makes the difference?

What do you think?  Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What is a Disciple - 7

In John 14:21, 23 – 24, we find the fifth mark of a disciple, obedience.  We have already seen that a disciple is a follower of Christ who is steeped in His Word, has an ever deepening prayer life, and is not only intentionally engaged in community but is also driven by his love for Christ to beg others to be reconciled to God.  All of this can be at some level encapsulated by obedience.

Obedience to Christ is not irrational robot like - it is the reasonable response to the enormity of His sacrifice for us.

Obedience is a hard word for us.  Google it for images (strict search filter only) and you get pictures of dog obedience schools.  We have a sense that there is mindlessness to obedience.  If you look up the word in a common dictionary you will probably chafe at the definition.  But that is the mark of one who follows Christ.  His invitation to the fisherman was an imperative.  Lest one think this is an isolated notion Luke 6:46 answers that decisively.  The clear expectation of Scripture is that as followers of Christ we are to be about obeying Him.

But look again at the source of the obedience in John 14:23, it is love.  The same motivation is echoed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14.  When we understand that we have been redeemed by the Creator of the universe from eternal agony, and He accomplished that by choosing first to die for us, and then choosing to draw us to Himself based solely on His grace and not on any merit in us.  When we contemplate the enormity of the humility of that act, in light of the fact that we did not want or deserve it and in fact were sworn enemies (Reread Romans 5), the only rational response is what Paul suggests in Romans 12:1, 2, present ourselves as a living sacrifice.  Obey.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is a Disciple - 6

We have said that a disciple is a follower of Christ, steeped in the Word of God, one who prays, and is intentionally engaged in community.  The fourth avenue or means of following Christ is in sharing His message with others.  In fact, not engaging in sharing the message with others is unnatural for a disciple, 2 Corinthians 5:14 - 21.


In John 15:16, Jesus tell us that He chose us to bear fruit that remains.  In light of what He commands in Matthew 28:18 – 20 and His prayer in John 17, at least part of that expectation of fruit is in leading others to follow Him.

You might ask, “How does sharing the gospel with others draw you closer to Christ?”  Great question.  In his book Dedication And Leadership, Douglas Hyde, who converted to Catholicism from being the head of the communist party in Britain, compared the training of Christ to the training methods of the communist party.  He found several interesting parallels.  One that is particularly interesting is the early engagement of the new disciples in spreading the message of the movement.  He relates that at his first party meeting he was given a stack of party newspapers and was instructed to go out on the streets and sell them and not to return until he had distributed them all.  You might say that was a stretching experience for him.  He was hit with a tsunami of questions for which he neither had answers nor even categories.  When he returned to the meeting he was full of questions, a sponge for any information that he could use, and systems by which he could catalog and retrieve that information for use.

That has been my experience in sharing the Gospel as well.  As the Lord has given me opportunity, I have shared the faith.  Each person has questions that are different.  I have not been able to answer them all but the questions have driven me back to the Lord in prayer, the Word, and in the community for those who have encountered similar objections.  I have seen people who seemed hopeless, transformed by the power of the gospel.  I have been transformed by the experience.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is a Disciple - 5

So far we have said that one who is a disciple is a follower of Christ who is steeped in the Word and has a life characterized by prayer.  The third avenue for one who aspires to follow Christ is to be engaged in community.  Note that does not read be in community, rather engaged in community.  There is a difference.  By this I do not mean that one is in a church, Bible study, or small group, in the sense that one attends.  Rather that one is intentionally engaged in some or all of those activities, not as a spectator, or a consumer, but as a vital contributor.
If you poke around the Bible on this issue in the various ways it shows up, either fellowship or church or gathering, you will soon validate that the expectation is that of engagement rather than attendance.  Hebrews 10:24 – 25, tells us we are to engage with our minds, to think how to best contribute, to stimulate those in the assembly.  Hebrews 3:13, instructs us to daily involve ourselves in encouraging one another – oh that is another place you can look, search BibleGateway.com for all of the places “one another” shows up in the epistles.  There is a lot of books, tests, workshops, videos, messages… on spiritual gifts, the key passages are Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.  The reason those gifts are given is summarized perhaps best in Ephesians 4:16, each part of the body contributes to the building up of the body.

To what end?  Essentially, based on the final command of Christ in Matthew 28:18-20, world domination.  The community is to aggressively take His message and reproduce it by raising up disciples throughout the world.  So the community is more of a huddle between plays where the team regroups rather than a restaurant or a mall to pick and choose ones purchase.  Those from the church in Jerusalem turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6 NKJV).

What is your community like?  Is it engaging your gifts and fanning your passion to follow and serve Christ by reaching your world?  If not how are you engaged in changing that?

Monday, February 20, 2012

What is a Disciple - 4

But we also mentioned yesterday that there are at least five avenues which we engage in following Christ.  The second of these avenues we will explore is prayer.


This is an area in which I am continually in need of growth.  It does not rank high on the list of things I do well.  So these remarks are those of one on a rocky journey in this area.

If the primary way in which God reveals Himself to us is through His Word, our primary response to Him is through prayer.  If we are to follow Christ’s example, we will respond to life with prayer.  On multiple occasions the gospels record Christ separating Himself from people in need to go meet with His Father in prayer (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35; 6:46; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 9:28 – 29; 11:1).  Seems counter intuitive, at least to our modern way of problem solving thinking.  Rather than diving into the fray, He pulled away to pray.

It is hard.  It sometimes feels futile.  It is necessary to respond in any relationship.  Like any relationship we have to learn how to best communicate with the other party.  It takes time and practice.  To say that this has just brushed the surface of this avenue of following Christ as a disciple would be a gross understatement.  There is much more that the Bible has to say about prayer.  If you do not have access to a Bible study program, BibleGateway.com is a good resource.  I did a quick query on the word “pray” in the search engine and got this list of references to pray in the New Testament.  It might be helpful to scan through these to remind ourselves of the central place prayer has as a core discipline of a disciple.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What is a Disciple - 3

We established yesterday that a disciple is a follower of Christ.  Two thousand years ago that meant that we strapped on our sandals and walked with Christ for three years in the environs of Israel.  Not going to work today.  So how does one respond to the command to follow Christ?

There are at least five avenues that will help us in following Him today.


2 Peter 1:3, 4, is key in this pursuit.  Peter tells us here that we have been granted all we need for life and godliness.  How?  By becoming partakers of the divine nature.  How does that work?  Essentially what Peter is telling us here is the Word of God is a representation of the nature and character of God.  When we open the Book, we are stepping into the presence of Him who created us and gives purpose to our lives.  As we study its pages we are studying Him.  Note the tight construction of Peter’s thoughts in the transition between verses 3 and 4; he granted His precious and magnificent promises by His own glory and excellence.  His promises, His Word, is a reflection of who He is.

So the first avenue, perhaps the foundation of our current means of following Him, is to spend much time with Him in His Word.  It is essential.  Think of it.  We have access to the very nature and character of God whenever we wish simply by opening the pages of the Book.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What is a Disciple - 2

The first thing that we see when we start looking at this notion of discipleship is the first command that Christ gave to the fishermen, “Follow Me.”  So it stands to reason, almost without saying it, that a disciple is a follower of Christ.  Since there was no twitter then, I looked at all of the times that Christ said “Follow Me,” came up with an interesting list of characteristics of one who is asked to follow:


  • Fishers of men
  • Allow the dead to bury their own dead
  • Must deny himself, and take up his cross daily
  • Sell all your possessions and give to the poor
  • Will not walk in the darkness
  • Hear His voice
  • Is working where Christ is working
  • Is not envious of another’s standing with Christ

Meditating on these, thinking through what they mean to each of us individually, is a good place to start on this journey.  They seem to me to describe one who, using a poker term, is all in; one who has put Christ ahead of personal goals including family, work, wealth, position, reputation, and pleasure.  On the surface that seems like a radical choice, until one considers it is the creator of the universe who is issuing the invitation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What is a Disciple - 1

“Follow Me,” said Jesus to the fisherman of Bethsaida, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  These words (whose originality stamps them as a genuine saying of Jesus) show that the great Founder of the faith desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him men whom He might train to make disciples of others: to cast the net of divine truth into the sea of the world, and to land on the shores of the divine kingdom a great multitude of believing souls.  Both from His words and from His actions we can see that He attached supreme importance to that part of His work which consisted in training of the twelve.  (Bruce, A. B.  The Training of the Twelve.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1971. Pp 12 – 13.)

Yesterday we started asking the question what is a disciple and how do you make one.  I mentioned that we are going to invest some time in this inquiry.  I am starting here because of what Christ commanded in Matthew 28:18 – 20, specifically, that the twelve were to teach “them to observe all that I commanded you,” which includes this last command to make disciples.  So we are starting with the end in mind.  A disciple, an apprentice of Christ, is one who will be engaged in reproducing themselves, passing on what they are learning about following Jesus.  That is the goal.  A disciple is not a consumer, he is a wholesaler.

How does one get there?

If you want to work through this yourself a good starting place would be to download this list of all of the passages in the New Testament that mention the word disciple.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Make Disciples

Matthew 28:18 – 20, is referred to by most of the Church as the great commission.  There has been a lot written about this.  You have probably read some of it.  There have been a fair number of sermons preached on this passage as well.  Many times this passage is used in connection with mission conferences.  We are to “go.”
If you have studied this passage you know that go is not the imperative here.  The imperative, the command here is mathetusate, make disciples.  Go, baptize, and teach are all participles, verb forms that derive their force from the main imperative verb, make disciples.  So the focus of the 12, according to the command of Christ is to be about the business of making disciples.  There is much more in the verbs here, but that is enough for now.

This may be obvious, but it seems that if the command is to make disciples, we ought to know what a disciple might be.  I have been in churches fairly consistently since I came to Christ in 1973, I do not remember a message that defined for the congregation what a disciple is.  I have heard such messages, at para-church conferences, but not in the churches.  Odd.

In their book “Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples,” Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger state that they found, “…that the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.  They had clarity about the process.  They moved Christians intentionally through the process.  They were focused on the elements of the process.  And they aligned their entire congregation to this process.” (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006, p ix.)

If they have a process, by definition they have defined the product.  As Steven Covey preaches, they started with the end in mind.  This is important.  The Church is not to be about making converts, communicants, or even Christians.  Acts 11:26 is determinative on this point.  The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.  Note the order; disciple first.

For the next few posts we will look at some passages that may help us understand what a disciple is, and how to make one.  After all, as dads, that is what we want our kids to be, right?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Take Time to Smell the Verbs

Hurry up and finish!  If someone is not telling us that, we are telling ourselves that, pretty much constantly; especially when we are doing routine, familiar tasks.  That voice will also manifest itself when we are reading passages in the Bible that are familiar.  So we breeze through them – we know them right?  Maybe not so much.

Yesterday I mentioned that the first and foremost question in Bible study is, “What does it say?”  That is the question of observation.  Good observation takes time.  It takes concentration.  It takes looking past the surface to the structure and vocabulary of a passage.  Smelling the verbs.

You probably know Acts 1:8.  May even have it memorized.  In Prof Hendricks’ class on Bible study at Dallas Seminary, one of the first assignments was to make 50 observations on that verse.  The next assignment was to make 50 more…  and on…  The record when I graduated in 1991 was somewhere in the order of 650 observations.  That took a minimum of 13 days to do.  Observation takes time.  In order to do it well we have to slow down, not speed up.  There are some things we can look for that will make our examination of a passage more effective.  But there is no substitute for time.

There is a classic piece on observation click “In the Laboratory with Agassiz,” to read it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Four Questions

There are four questions that we ask over and over in Bible study. Same four. Yes there are supplemental questions that we ask, but they all fall under the heading of one of the main four. Those questions are:
  • What does the Bible say? 
  • What does the Bible mean? 
  • What does the Bible say about this in other places in the Bible? 
  • What does the Bible say that I need to do? 
There are four questions we ask over and over in Bible Study
Problem is in a lot of cases we get these questions out of order. There is little chance of getting meaning correct if we do not take the time to see what is says. Yes, that is a bit obvious but we tend to come to Bible with some not so obvious preconceptions. 

One of those preconceptions is that there is some deep meaning or code that we have to unlock in order to understand the Book. That is the root of some of the (I am using great restraint in the choice of words here) stuff that has been written about the Bible in the past decade. During the time when the Bible was being affirmed by the churches, there were several groups of people who thought they had special knowledge and secret codes or views that unlocked the Bible. They were called gnostics, the word is derived from the Greek word for knowledge gnosis. That myth persists. The popular book and movie "The DaVinci Code" exploited this; even mentioning the gnostic gospels.

The Holy Spirit inspired men to write in for the most part in Hebrew and Greek. Those languages in the forms in which the Bible was written are dead. That means that they have not changed in the thousands of years since the Books were penned. Both Hebrew and Greek have vocabulary and grammar. Those languages follow rules. They are both translatable into other languages that have vocabulary and grammar, that in the case of English had been derived in part from Greek. So, all of us can read the Bible and be confident that we can see what is says.

Take time to see, observe. The Spirit used the grammar and vocabulary, deliberately. The more we take the time to look the more we will see. It is a lot like looking at a fine painting by one of the old masters. The more we look the more that we see. Do not rush through the first question to the second.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sharpening

Have you ever gotten into a disagreement over something in the Bible?  Yeah, I know we are not supposed to talk about politics or religion…  I was in a Bible study at the Navigator Training Center at Michigan State University.  There were 12 of us in the study.  We were required to invest 20 hours each week in preparation.  We were all, for the most part type-A personalities.  So we came together with some fairly rigid positions which we were loath to abandon lightly.  At the end of the two hour discussion there was usually blood and hair on the ceiling.  Our wives were in the same study in the adjoining room.  My wife would ask every week on the way back to our apartment if we really liked each other.  Other than the current study on the Kingdom of God with two of these same men and another I have known longer, it was just about the best Bible study I have ever been in.
Why?

  • Each man in the study came prepared.  
  • Each one had similar life experiences.  
  • Each was hard after pursuing building a ministry that challenged and stretched their gifts and abilities.  
  • Each was bending every effort of their lives to more effectively reach the people they were assigned to serve with the Gospel.

The “battles” over the Scripture, sharpened us.  It was much like hand to hand combat training.  We had to defend our positions from the Scripture against hard questions from like-minded, trusted warriors.  It not only deepened but seasoned our convictions.  We had to learn, or better begin to learn – it is a lifetime journey – to submit our thinking to examination and critique by differently gifted but like minded men.

It was Proverbs 27:17 on steroids.

As men fighting for our families, we need this kind of sharpening.  Search and pray for an opportunity similar to this.  Find like minded men who are in the same fight.  Dive into the Word together, don’t just stick your toe in, dive in headfirst.  Fight out what you have learned; test your thinking against the gifts of the other men.

It is not easy to create this.  The current study on the Kingdom is over Skype, covers four states and three time zones.  But the discussion is rich.  Fight for this.  It is worth it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rippled

Thomas Jones or Arthur Bloch (depending on which Google result you believe) said, “Friends come and go but enemies accumulate.”  I mentioned yesterday that there were men who impacted my life in both positive and negative ways that the Lord has used in my life to get me to this place… one of the negative ones walked back into my sphere of influence today.  This person’s impact on my life is ongoing, the details are not important, but my reaction when I saw this individual was.  It was not the most Godly.
The reality of life is that Jones or Bloch is right, enemies accumulate.  As much as you may try to avoid them, I have found that it is not practical, nor a profitable way to live.  What do we do with them?  I have prayed for this individual, forgiven them, prayed again for them for periods of time daily, repeat…  Yet, still when they entered into my sphere again, my reaction was not something of which I am proud.  Our kids notice this reaction; they notice how I react to difficult situations.  How I handle the hard stuff speaks more loudly than what I tell them is right.

So got home from where this happened sat down with my journal and Bible and began to tell the Lord that I was not happy with Him or the situation.  I began to write out my complaint to Him, explaining why this was not a good situation (in case He had overlooked it) – by the way I learned this from David, many of his Psalms began as complaints to God about his various situations.  He led me to Psalm 93:1 and 98:1 – “He reigns” and “He has done wonderful things.”  This evening I was working through this again and was led to Matthew 5:43 – 44; Luke 6:35 (I really do not like this one); Romans 12:20.

The fact of the matter is I have not been faithful to pray for my enemies.  In my last journal I had a list of them that I prayed over daily.  I did not transfer that list to the new one.  I do not know, but I suspect that if I had just prayed for this individual I would have reacted a little better.  The other reality is that my Lord is sovereign.  He uses both positive and negative forces in my life to make me into what He has planned.  My job is to receive that from His heart with thankfulness.  It ain’t always easy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ripples

On Wednesday mornings I facilitate a Bible study on Romans.  For the past several weeks we have been working through chapters 8 – 11.  It is hard.  Peter said in 2 Peter 3:15 – 16, that Paul wrote some things that are hard to understand; Romans 8 – 11 qualifies.  One has to deal with foreknowledge, election, predestination, eternal security, and the sovereignty of God as a short list.  There have been some interesting discussions those mornings as men are working through what the text says that may not align with what they have thought or believed in the past.  It is a good, healthy struggle.
One of the men missed the study this week.  He was in Minneapolis on a business trip.  At breakfast he was reading through chapter 11, that was what we were working through this week, and found himself distracted so he began to pray.  That started a chain of events on Wednesday that, based on his emails to me, resulted in a major shift in His relationship and intimacy with God.  The week before when he told me that he would be in Minneapolis, I suggested that he check out Bethlehem Baptist Church, it is the church John Piper leads.  He went there Wednesday evening.  Suffice it to say that the Lord showed up in big, very specific way to meet with him there.  On Thursday morning I got a couple of lengthy emails thanking me for the Romans study and suggesting BBC.

After reading the emails I began to think through what had happened to my friend.  Thinking and praying through the events I began to list all of the men who had impacted my life both negative and positive ways that resulted in my being both in a position to facilitate the study and be in a position to suggest the church in Minneapolis.  There were about 61 men on the list spanning about 48 years when I finished; I probably left some out.  Each of those men, had a hand in helping my friend by virtue of the impact they have had on me.  That is just my side of the equation.  That does not take into account all of the people who have impacted my friend to get him into the study.

What is the point?  Hebrews 3:13 says we are to be engaged in daily encouraging one another.  All the touches we have in the lives of people, to encourage them, to build them up in the Lord, have impact, impact that in most cases we may never see.  They are used by the Lord to shape and mold so that those folks can bear fruit, in some cases years later.  Like ripples in a large pond, we cannot see either the impact those experiences will have on others through the words and encouragement we give other or that others give us.  But our majestic Lord uses them to help a brother in a far city on a business trip not only break through to a different level of relationship with Christ, but also to engage in the life of one whom he met in the hotel who was contemplating sin.  The ripples continue.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Love

Walk into a store today, just about any store, and you will be overwhelmed by flowers, hearts, candies with messages, boxes of chocolates…  Listen to any talk radio and you will be offered, Sherri’s berries, pajamagrams, Vermont Teddy Bears, or pro-flower deals… Why?  Valentine’s day.  It is a huge industry celebrating “love.”
That word, has been really abused.  Through television shows, movies, romance novels, it has been reduced to an emotion that is heralded, as John Lennon put it, as “all you need.”  But John abandoned his wife and son and was sexually promiscuous while married to both Cynthia and Yoko.  We have a divorce rate in the culture and the church that blasts the notion that, “love is all you need” out of the proverbial water.  Or we have a epically deficient definition of love.

What an opportunity.

This next few days talk to your kids about love.  You know that in the Bible three of the four Greek words for love are found.  The key one is agape.  That is God’s love for us.  Why not spend some time meditating on John 3:16, 21:15 – 17, pay attention to the interplay of the word use – you know this but Christ uses agape and Peter responds with phileo, except in verse 17 where Jesus uses phileo.  What are the implications of the way the Holy Spirit directs John’s use of agape in these two passages.  How should that shape your kids view of love?  If you need more data here is a list of all of the places agapao (verb form) shows up in the New Testament.  Have some fun with this.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No Confidence 2

Yesterday I shared some thoughts about why men do not have the confidence to engage deeply with the Word of God.  We looked at a couple of possible sources for that lack of confidence the fear of not getting it right and not understanding the commitment of the Holy Spirit to lead us in our pursuit of truth.  But I can think of at least one more – practice.

In Hebrews 5:14 we read that we have our senses trained by practice to engage in the meat of the Word.  When I asked the men (see the “No Confidence” post for the context) what their experience was in Bible study, in all but one case, the pastor’s, all of the studies mentions were of the fill in the blank type.  I have done a lot of these.  In fact the first study I did in the Air Force was one; I can see it on my bookshelf as I write this.  They are great ways to get into the Word, initially.  The problem with making them a steady diet is that they are a filtered view of the Word of God.  They are filtered by the person or group of people who created and edited the study.  Those folks dove into the Word on the topic or the book and did first hand study of the text.  They then took the result of their study and crafted questions to lead those who use their studies down the same paths that they took.  There is benefit in that.  However, when you are engaged in that type of study you are led in the direction their study took them by the questions they ask.  You are not interacting with the text first hand on the topic or the book.  So when given a Bible, a black sheet of paper, a pen, and the Holy Spirit – since you have not had the practice of doing it yourself, it can be overwhelming.  Where do you start?  How do you proceed?

John Piper tweeted on January 20th, “When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.”  I could not agree more.  I would add to that when all your Bible study guides are gone…  We all need to learn, to practice, diving into the Word on our own, unaided, except by the Holy Spirit.  The more we do, the more confident we will become.  Not only in our ability to meet with God through His Word, but also in the value of the effort.

If you want to know how to start, let me know.  I would be more than happy to help you get started.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No Confidence


A 10-Week Dads Teach the Bible workshop started up yesterday morning (details on that are under the event tab above).  We asked the question, “What are some of the things that hinder men from engaging both in study of the Word on their own and then passing that on to their families and other men in their sphere of influence?”  (Similar to the question posed in the second post on this blog, “The Challenge.”)  We came up with quite a list.  As I have thought through the things we talked about, it seems like most of the reasons can be filed under the heading “lack of confidence.”  The gist of it was that there was a fear that one would get it wrong or that they would not be able to get anything out of the Word without help from someone.


That seems to miss the mark at, at least, two levels.  First, right, we probably will not get it right, I will stipulate that.  We are investigating an infinitely majestic God, whose nature and thought is far beyond our comprehension.  The Christian life, the study of the Bible, is a lifelong gaze at Him through the lens of what He has revealed of Himself in the Word.  The more we study the more we will learn.  Some of that learning will be that we got some things wrong the first time through.  But the continuous progress is toward the truth.

Second, lack of confidence seems to be discounting what Christ promised in John 16:13.  Christ promised that we would receive the Holy Spirit and that He would lead us into all truth.  So it seems that if we have the Holy Spirit and we have the Word of God, the Spirit will instruct us through that Word into not only a better understanding of the Word but also God.

There is at least one other thought on this, which we will pick up tomorrow…

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fellowship


I mentioned yesterday that I spent most of last weekend under a tree about 100 yards off of the Ozark Highlands Trail in Arkansas.  The purpose was to spend time with the Lord in His Word.  I have done this before, in the Buffalo Wilderness and in Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  I have also done this in hotels, motels, and cabins, most recently before this weekend at a converted Benedictine retreat, mostly by myself but on occasion with another man who is also in the battle.  These are rich refreshing times.  The format is not set in stone there is definitely time in the Word, prayer, and extensive journaling; sometimes I have a book or two with me that I want to read.

This last weekend I felt rushed.  I typically schedule these for at least four days; but schedule constraints meant I could not leave until after 10 AM on Saturday and I had to be back to set up for this morning’s workshop by late morning on Monday.

After I set up my camp on Saturday, I began to journal, read the Word, and pray – it was not working.  It was odd.  I love the wilderness.  The setting helps me worship the majesty of God better than any church or cathedral.  It is His handiwork.  But I felt disconnected.  It was discouraging.  I went to bed, bag really, early, slept late, tried again the next morning, still nothing.  Considered striking camp and heading home.

I had brought a book with me.  As an afterthought I picked it up and read a few pages.  Things broke loose.  The author was writing about fighting some of the same battles in which I have been engaged.  I was if we were in dialog about the issues.  I found myself reading a few pages, putting the book down, picking up my journal and responding, and that action driving me to the Word for a time to work through a thought or idea, and then back to the book.  I read through about 75% of the 175 pages of the book before the weekend was done.

I do not personally know the author.  There is little chance we will ever meet.  I am grateful for his joining me on this short trek on the OHT.  His fellowship, passion, struggle, and perspective on issues with which I have been struggling, helped me break through to a rich time with the Lord.  That should be the impact we have on one another as believers and actually all of the people with whom we come in contact.  Isaiah 33:13 says it well whether someone is far away or near, our engagement moves them closer to Christ.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Solitude

One of the key words in the Gospel of Mark is “immediately.”  If you took the word out of the book it would be a couple of chapters shorter.  Mark starts off with a bang.  In chapter 1 we have recorded one of Christ’s busiest days.  Read through it.  Look what he does the next morning, verse 35.  I don’t know about you, but after a day like that I would have slept in.  The model here is that we have to get away from people and get time with the Father.


For the last two days, since Saturday morning, I have been sitting under a tree in Arkansas.  My son John has been publishing these last few posts for me.  I have learned that I have to get away from the phone, the computer, the television, people.  I do not get to do it enough.  It allows me to just be still.  To thin, read the Word, and Journal.  I highly recommend the practice.  It is the best way I know to actually apply Psalm 46:10.  You may not want to backpack out to the middle of a wilderness, but I would encourage you to get away from all the usual distractions and focus on Him.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

No Time

Have you ever noticed how much we reference “time” in our daily life?  I just checked and since I started writing this blog last November I have used the word 107 times in 83 posts.  Why is that?  John Eldredge has called busyness the “spirit of the age.”  By that he means that we are effectively slaves to our schedules.  There are not many of us that do not have smartphones that are synced with our computers, that tell us when and what we have scheduled.  We fill those schedules.  With work, kids events, entertainment – when we do not have something to do, we get nervous that we may have forgotten something.


It is said that all men are created equal – while that is not true in the sense of gifts and abilities – I will never be an NFL football player, It is true in one sense.  We all have 168 hours each week.  No matter whom we are we have that amount of time.  We choose how to use it.  Men have told me that they did not have time to study the Bible.  All that really means is that it is not important to them.  Some time ago a guy told me that he had not had the time to prep for a study he had told me he wanted to do.  I knew that he had spent several hours playing games on his computer that week.  Christ said that His word is to abide in us, John 15:7.  It would seem that in order for the Word to abide in us, we will have to abide in the Word.

All of us have to make decisions every day how we are going to invest the 24 hours we have been allotted.  How we invest it, is a better indication of what is important than what we claim to be.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Skill

What do you do at work?  Most of us solve problems.  Either we are told what to do or we figure it out.  One way or another all work we do is solving problems.  Even if we are told what to do, we will be thinking of how to most quickly get the job done, how to make the work easier.  That involves analysis of the task and synthesis of our thinking to come up with the best course of action.  In most cases we do that sub-consciously.  But it wasn’t always that way.  Anytime we do something new, we have to use those skills more deliberately, until we become familiar with the new context.
Men have told me in the past that they could not understand the Bible.  That it confused them.  But the reality is, it is just a new context.  The problem solving skills we use every day will serve us well in studying the Bible.  More than that those skills, which were given by God (Psalm 139:13 – 14), are empowered to understand the Bible through the Holy Spirit, John 16:13 – 14.  We just need to engage in the process.  It may be uncomfortable at first, but just as with any other new or unfamiliar thing we do, as we do it more we become better at it.  We just need a starting place.  I suggested one in an earlier post, “Unknown.”  Why not try it?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Dissonance

Yesterday we said that at some level it does not matter what we think, feel, or believe, what matters is what God says.  The problem we began to address is how we align ourselves with God’s thinking, feelings, and beliefs.  Romans 12:2 says that we have to have our minds transformed.  Isaiah 8:20 says that if we are not aligned with the Word we are in darkness.


If you are like me, there are some passages of scripture that cause you problems.  In most cases with me, it means that what the Scripture says does not line up with what I currently believe or practice.  When that happens to me it is a jarring experience, the technical term for it is cognitive dissonance.  That is when a message that comes our way is counter to our settled world view.  When that happens we have three choices:
  • Change our world view or behavior
  • Discredit the message
  • Discredit the messenger
When we are dealing with the Word of God, and it challenges our beliefs or behavior we have a real challenge.  Sometimes we will try to discredit the Bible, the message, with reason, or with an interpretation that explains away what the text of the Bible says.  We do that in a lot of cases by skipping the first question in Bible study, “What does it say?” and moving directly to the second question, “What does it mean?”  The challenge we will have with that is in most cases the meaning of the Bible is not all that obscure.  It simple means what it says.  When we really don’t like it we either ignore it or say that it does not apply anymore.

Look at the options.  If we do not choose the first, we are either discrediting the Bible or God.  As we are working through this life, engaging in leading our families through the minefields that life throws at us, it would seem to me that choosing any other option but the first is dangerous both to us and our families.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I... I... I...


Over the years, in multiple conversations, discussions, about some aspect of following Christ there are phrases that seem to crop up over and over again, “I think…,” “I believe…,” “I feel…”  Those phrases have come out of my mouth as well.  At some level they are legitimate responses to some questions.  But at another level they perhaps reveal an inappropriate response to whatever topic is being discussed.
It does not really matter what "I think... feel... or believe," what matters is what is true, what does God think... feel... or believe.  To the extent that my thoughts, beliefs, or feelings align with God's I am walking, as John puts it in 3 John 4, "in truth."  To the extent that those three are not aligned, by definition, I am walking in a lie.

So how do I get aligned with God's thoughts, beliefs, and feelings?  He has revealed them for us in His Word; much more than that He has revealed Himself in His Word.  So I need to go to the Word to have, like Paul says in Romans 12:2, my mind renewed, aligned with His.  But there is a challenge in doing this.  It means that I have to come to the Word both acknowledging what I currently think, feel, and believe and hold it loosely.  That is I have to submit my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to what the Bible says.  That is largest struggle I, we will have in coming to the Bible.

More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Heart Exam



In Acts 13:22 we are told that David was a man after God’s own heart.  I want to be like David.  I want my kids to be like David.  In His grace God allows us to get a glimpse at David’s heart.  We essentially have a lot of David’s thoughts and prayers recorded for us in the Psalms.  We have the privilege of reading his journal as he struggled with walking with God.  Paul tells us in Romans 15:4, we have this for our instruction.
In Psalm 63 there is a series of phrases that captures Paul’s heart attitude toward God:

  • Verse 1:
    • “I shall seek You earnestly”
    • “My soul thirsts for You”
    • “My flesh yearns for You”
  • Verse 8:
    • “My soul clings to You”

There is a committed focus here.  It is hard to ignore.  It is an MRI of David’s heart.  It is echoed over and over again in the Psalms.  Psalm 27:4 leaps to mind, David is after “one thing,” the face of God.  It brings to mind Curley’s philosophy in “City Slickers,” (one bad word but hold on…):


That is really what Paul is saying in Philippians 3:8 – “rubbish” is the sanitized translation of the Greek.  Paul’s attitude here mirrored David’s.  Look at Philippians 3:7 – 15, same heart.

I want that heart.  Jenny and I want our kids and grandkids to have that heart.  The only way I know to develop it, is to spend time with God in His Word, to be transformed by His presence, to seek Him hard in the Book.