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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking for a Fresh Start

Looking for a Fresh StartHow Did Go?
I am going to wait a couple of days to share my thoughts on the implications of John 5:10 – 11.  It is New Year’s Eve.  Got a question for you.  How did this year go for you in terms of your walk with God?  In what ways did your relationship with Christ deepen?  Are you satisfied with how you did with Him this past year?  If not why not?

The New Start
We talk about a fresh start at the beginning of a new year.  In reality we get a fresh start as believers whenever we confess our sin.  1 John 1:9 tells us that we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.  We do not need the New Year to make a fresh start.  We just need to come clean with Him.

We can do that every day.  Probably should.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sadly Predictable Reaction

Scene 2
The focus of John 5 now turns away from Jesus for a moment.  The Jews see the healed man walking and carrying his pallet.  In their view this was work, work which breaks the Sabbath.  Not supposed to be doing that.
5:10a So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured,
5:10b “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”
Sadly Predictable Reaction
Observations
5:10a
It might be logical to suggest that someone who had been by that pool for 38 years, might be recognized.  There is no indication he was.  If I were going to break the Sabbath I probably would do it away from the temple.  To see one so flagrantly breaking the law should, it seems, raise questions.  But there is no hint of curiosity on the part of the Jews, they did not recognize that a healing had taken place.  They just saw a man carrying a pallet, work, therefore the automatic reaction was to address the violation.

5:10b
It is relatively certain that the man knew that carrying the pallet was a violation of the Law.  But the Jews told him.  You are not permitted to do what you are doing.  This action was counter to the Jews world view.  It was not aligned with the way things should be done.  That was all that mattered to them.  The reason, the man was carrying his pallet was irrelevant from their point of view.  He had to be corrected.  The rules had to be maintained.

Scandalous Response
On the other hand the healed man had experienced a world view altering event.  His compass had been reoriented by the healing encounter with Jesus:
5:11a But he answered them,
5:11b “He who made me well was the one who said to me,
5:11c ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ ”

5:11a
John prefaces the man’s response to the Jews with the contrast, “but”.  The newly comprehensively healed man, thus he was operating under a different set of rules that emerged out of a life altering experience.  The contrast was their need to keep rules and his experience with Christ.

5:11b and c
The Jews authority was their understanding of the Law.  The man’s was the one who had instantaneously healed him.  He did not challenge their interpretation of the Law or their desire to enforce it.  He simply told them that he was told to break the Law by the one who had healed him.  It is reasonable to surmise that he felt obedience to the healer was called for over obedience to the Law.

There are several implications here.  What do you see?  I will share what I see as the implications tomorrow.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question
Non-Answer
Commands and Response
The Immediate Effect

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Immediate Effect

Why?
I have been working through John 5 phrase by phrase.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Primary among them is the way that most of us approach the Bible.  In many cases we read a passage like this and do not take the time to see what it actually says.  We either read into it what we think should be there or else after a cursory reading, either dive into the notes in our study Bibles or else pick up our favorite commentary on the book we are “studying.”
The Immediate Effect
My mission, what gets me out of bed in the morning is helping people actually observe what is in the text rather than what they think is there or what they think should be there.  Prof said that we would all be better served spending more time observing the text than reading what others have said about it.  I have found that advice absolutely sound.

So Far
We have looked at the first eight verses, 1 – 3 and 5 set the scene, 6 is Christ’s question to the man, 7 is his non-responsive answer, and yesterday we looked at Christ’s commands to the man.  Verse 9 is the effect of Christ’s commands:

5:9a Immediately the man became well,
5:9b and picked up his pallet
5:9c and began to walk.
5:9d Now it was the Sabbath on that day.

Observations
5:9a
Literally, in Greek, the phrase says, “And immediately became well the man.”  The first word is another temporal connective, the word liberally peppers the Gospel of Mark.  As soon as Jesus commanded the man to get up, he was healed.  Think back to John 1.  The allusion to Genesis 1 is stark.  Both start with “In the beginning.”  In Genesis 1 the Lord speaks a word and immediately that word is created.  In John 1 Christ is called the Word, in John 1:3 we find that all that came into being did so through Him.  In Genesis 1 the things created did not participate in their creation.  Here the man did not participate in his healing.  The Word, the Creator, spoke, and he was healed.  This again emphasizes Jesus in the passage, it was His words spoken that was the cause of this effect.

The word order is also significant.  Placing the result before the one who experienced the resulting healing, emphasizes the healing.  It is yet another focus on the Savior.

5:9b and c
Yesterday’s post examined the implications of Christ’s commands in detail, I will not repeat that here but to say that the healing was not just immediate but immediately comprehensive.  With three commands Christ healed the man’s infirmaries and gave him the ability to use the healed limbs as if they were never infirm.

5:9d
The sentence ends at the end of c.  D is a temporal commentary and yet more than that.  The Greek is explicit, “it was now the Sabbath on that day.”  If it is the case that Psalm 139:1 – 4 is true, and that Jesus is doing what His Father tells Him to do and only that, then this healing was intentionally done on the Sabbath, to create exactly the effect that the event created.  The reaction of the Jews in the next few verses was not an unintended consequence of a gracious deed.  We have already established in John 2:23 – 25 that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men.

Implications
One implication is that Jesus and His Father are sovereign over who and when they heal, regardless of either the response of the individual or the “rules.”  There are other implications that play out over the next few verses.  We will begin that journey tomorrow.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question
Non-Answer Commands and Response

Monday, December 28, 2015

Commands and Response

Response of Christ
We have been looking at John 5, specifically the healing of the lame man at Bethesda.  We come now to Jesus' action in verse 8:

5:8a Jesus said to him,
5:8b "Get up,
5:8c pick up your pallet
5:8d and walk."
Commands and Response
Observations
5:8a
When asked in verse 6 if he wanted to be healed, the man responded with a non answer in verse 7, rather he just told Jesus what he was trying, and failing, to get well.  Jesus does not respond with an evaluation or rebuke of the man’s means nor does He point out that what he said was not responsive to His question.  He simply speaks.  His direction is short, almost terse, consisting of  three commands.

5:8b
The first command is "get up".  The Greek mood is imperative, this is not a request, it is a command.  There is no preamble, no acknowledgement of the man's response, no question about his faith, no question about his understanding of who is talking to him, just, "get up."  The Greek tense is present, in this context Jesus, is telling him to do this now.  There is no need to wait for a stirring of the water, no need for a man to carry him to the water, the Man is telling him now is the time, "get up."  Jesus commands him to do what he has been unable to do for 38 years, "get up," but that is not all.

5:8c
Jesus' second command, "pick up your pallet," is astounding.  If you have small children, or have ever watched a child learn to walk, you know that standing is not a trivial accomplishment, much less standing, bending over, picking something up, and then straightening back up, to balance with not only your body but the object retrieved.  To pick up the pallet he would have to balance on legs that he had not used for 38 years, bend over, pick up, and stand up.  Muscles that had not been used for 38 years had to work as if they had been working together seamlessly, with the proper muscle memory.  This was no small command.  The implication is that the healing was comprehensive, giving the man not only physical healing but also coordination, balance, and muscle memory.

5:8d
The third command, "walk," is also a shock.  Again this is not a skill the man had while laying by the pool for the last several years.  Standing is just the first part of walking.  I have watched all four of my kids and now my grandkids fall multiple times before taking one step after learning to stand.  It is not automatic to begin to walk from a standing position.  This again is emphasis on the comprehensive nature of Jesus' healing of this man.

Implications
The implications of Jesus' response to this man are staggering.  This is not about the man.  This is about Christ.  The focus is completely on the creative ability of Jesus.  He creates in the man with three words, both the physical healing and the ability to use the healed body as if there was never any impairment.

In contrast to the man's failed effort to heal himself by beating others into the pool.  This is a clear example of the power of Christ not only to heal but to restore.  There is nothing the man added.  No effort, no faith, no request, not even a knowledge of who was commanding him to stand, pick up, and walk.  Jesus came to him.  Jesus initiated the conversation.  Jesus did not condemn nor correct his approach to fixing himself.  He just healed him.

We serve and worship an incredibly gracious and giving God.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question
Non-Answer

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Non-Answer

Picking back up...
Returning to John 5we saw in verse 6 Jesus asked a strange question, in verse 7 the man responds:
5:7a The sick man answered Him,
5:7b “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up,
5:7c but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Non-Answer
Observations by phrase
5:7a
Up to this point in the story the focus has been on Christ.  Now the focus shifts to the man.  In order to respond he has to personally engage with Christ.  He could have ignored the question.  You and I have been asked questions that we thought were stupid.  It would not be too big a stretch for the man to have thought, “What the heck does this dude mean, ‘Do I wish to well?’  I wonder why he thinks I am lying here.”  The man does not know Jesus, he could have thought he was being mocked.  But instead, he engages.

5:7b
The man’s answer focused on what he thought he needed to do to get well.  Looking at the literary structure complex instrumentation is in play here.  Instrumentation describes the means as well as the end of an outcome.  The end is getting well.  There are two means, the ultimate is to get into the water when it is stirred before someone else.  The primary is the need for one to help him get to the water.  He has no one, therefore, he has no hope of getting to the end.  The implied contrast is even though I have no means, regardless I am here every day.  This sets up Jesus’ next action in an interesting way.  The man has no one to help him, Jesus is that man.

5:7c
The man shares the ultimate failure of what he is trusting for healing.  The hopelessness of trying to deal with his condition on his own.  He is continually unable to get to the end he desires.  He is telling Jesus that what he is doing is not working – and without saying so, if his situation does not change, never will.

Note that nothing the man says answers Jesus’ question, “Do you wish to get well?”  The man just explains what he has been trying to do.  But, on another level, he has come to a necessary realization to which all who come to Christ must also eventually arrive.  There is nothing that we can do, no means that will result in the end of fixing all of our problems.  The longer we try, the longer we think we can, the further away from the real solution we drift.

Tomorrow, John 5:8.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus
"Strange" Question

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Feast of Stephen

It is the day after Christmas.  The day after we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  My wife is already planning how to celebrate with the grandkids next time.  Life goes on, one of my sons and his wife left this morning to go skiing in Colorado.  My other kids will shortly go back to work.  Life goes on.  The bills for Christmas will show up in the next few weeks.
Feast of Stephen
Today though if you or your church follows the liturgical calendar is the feast of Stephen.  Stephen was the first martyr.  We read of his selection as one of the seven chosen to serve food to the widows of the Hellenistic Jews in Acts 6.  This chapter came up in my study with a Moroccan pastor last week.  His observation was astute.  He noted that the qualifications for being a server of food, in verse 3 were to have a good reputation, be full of the Spirit, and full of wisdom.  There is no mention by the twelve of any ethnic qualifications.  That is striking since this is presented as an ethnic issue.  Think about the implications of that for today.  I am moving on to chapter 7.

In chapter 7 we read about Stephen’s “defense”.  He was arrested because the people that were challenging him were not able to keep up.  Essentially, he was arrested because he frustrated them and they were jealous.  They lied about what he was doing to get him in trouble.  By the way that is one of the ways the enemy will try to take you out, he will lie about what you are doing or saying.

Reading through Stephen’s defense one begins to realize the astounding handle he has on the history of Israel.  He knew the story, he knew the Word.  He was able to draw at least two parallels from the history with the way the current leadership had dealt with Jesus.  They were not pleased.

So here is a man who is chosen from among the disciples to serve food to widows.  He is able to perform signs and wonders, refute those who challenge the gospel, and handle the Word well enough to render the leaders of the people speechless and furious.  So they did the only thing they could.  They killed him.

Many of our fellowships have elected deacons.  That word is derived from the Greek word serve in Acts 6, διακονία, diakonia, or as we use it, deacon.  How are your deacons chosen?  What is it that your church looks for in one who serves?  Are they the type of men who are of good reputation, full of the Spirit, full of wisdom, able to perform signs and wonders, able to confound those who attack the gospel, able to handle the Word so well that they infuriate those opposed to the gospel?  Or is there some other criteria?  Why would we settle?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve

I pushed pause on John 5 last night.  We had a family event that took all of my time.  I will pick up John 5 after Friday.
Christmas Eve
This evening my family and I will attend a Christmas Eve service at the church we are currently attending.  This morning I met, as I do every week, online with a pastor in another country.  Christmas is not a holiday in his country.  So his church will celebrate Christmas on Sunday.  Problem is his home will not hold all of the people that want to come.  So he is looking for a place 50 people can congregate that is secure.

Our church had a service last night, and two tonight.  We are not really concerned about security other than making sure we can get people in and out of the parking lot safely.  The likelihood of arrest is, at the moment, non-existent.  We have loudspeakers facing the parking lot broadcasting the service for those who may be arriving late.

I have been in meetings with my pastor friend where we made sure to close the windows when we sang or prayed.  My trips there have been to help equip people in his churches to continue to grow when he is arrested.

As you celebrate with your family tonight, if you are able to attend services with your community, please remember those who do so under the shadow of arrest and incarceration for their faith in Christ.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

“Strange” Question

History
In the past when I have read John 5 I have puzzled over Jesus’ question to the man by the pool.  At different times it has seemed insensitive, harsh, weird, strange – of course the guy wanted to get well.  However…
“Strange” Question
Based on the foundation of the observations yesterday, I took another look at Jesus’ response.  I am going to go through this phrase by phrase.  There is a lot more going on here than I have previously seen.  Here is the passage the way I have approached it:

5:6a When Jesus saw him lying there, and
5:6b knew that he had already been a long time in that condition,
5:6c He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”

5:6a
When is a temporal connector.  Structurally, John is telling us of a specific event in time.  We have no data as to why Jesus was at the pool, there is some indication later in the chapter that His Father had directed Him to go there.  What we do know is that Jesus sees the man lying there.  Seeing can have more than one meaning.  It can be visual or it can refer to someone’s understanding.  Which is in play here?  The next phrase seems to answer that question.

5:6b
How did Christ know?  We are not told.  There are at least two possibilities.  First, someone told Him.  Or, like with Nathaniel, John 1:48, and with those who challenged Him nonverbally, or those who were responding to His signs, John 2:23 – 25, He knew what was in them.  It seems that for Jesus, seeing and knowing were joined here.  He immediately knew the man’s condition and how long he had been afflicted.  What we do know from verse 7, is that the man is immobile.  We do not know how he got to the pool each day.

5:6c
Now, the question.  Because of the sparse detail in the passage, excluding the scribal annotation, this question is the focus of these first verses.  The Greek is literally, “Do you wish well to become?”  The word order places emphasis on well.  I stated earlier that I have always found this question odd, especially since Jesus knew the man’s condition as well as it is indicated in the text.  As I thought through this light slowly began to dawn.  There are those whose identity is defined by their ailment.  I have __________.  Fill in the blank with whatever disease or physical limitation.  Christ is essentially asking the man, “Do you want to give up what has been your defining characteristic?”  For us, our defining characteristic is sin and rebellion.  So that question is not as strange either for the man or us.  Will we give up what is the driving passion of our lives?  Will we accept what Jesus offers?  Encased in this question we find the essence of the gospel.

This is validated by the man’s answer.  I will unwrap that tomorrow.

Posts in this series:
Intentional Focus

Monday, December 21, 2015

Intentional Focus

Running Behind
This afternoon I was working on getting ready for our study tomorrow morning.  We are in John 5.  I am behind this week and have not gotten the time into the study that I would like.  I had divided the chapter into paragraphs but that is about as far as I had gotten.  You know the chapter, it starts at the pool of Bethesda and ends with Christ rebuking the Jews for not understanding the Word.  I got stuck in the pool.
Intentional Focus
Slowed Way Down
It is going to take several days to share what I saw this afternoon.  I have read this passage multiple times probably fast forwarded through it to get to the “good part.”  The Lord stopped me in my tracks this afternoon.

Let’s go.

What’s Not There?
What is the first question that pops in your mind when you read John 5:1?  In my notes I wrote, “Which feast.”  I spent a few minutes thinking through the timeline to try to figure it out, then remembered that John isn’t necessarily chronological.  It dawned on me that it really did not matter.  If it had mattered, the Holy Spirit would have had John tell us.  But that was not all I saw.

What Shouldn’t Be There?
John 5:3 ends in my Bible with the last phrase in brackets with all of verse 4 inside those brackets.  Your bible probably has a similar device.  Why?  In the earliest Greek manuscripts that have been found, the description of the reason people are at the pool is not in the text.  Most scholars will say that this is a late scribal addition to try to explain what John left out.  If you read 1 – 5 without the added verse, you have a man laying by a pool with a bunch of other sick people and you are told that he had been ill for 38 years.  You do not know yet what is wrong with him.

Why?
If you are like me and most others, you want to know.  That is probably what drove the scribe to add the explanation.  The problem with the addition is that it clouds John’s purpose, it takes the focus off of Christ and onto the surroundings.

What Does That Tell Us?
Working through this a principle emerged.  In other scenes at other feasts, more detail is given.  We are told which feast is being celebrated, we are told details about the surroundings and why people are there.  Here, removing the scribal addition, we are not.  The point is when detail that is given other places is not provided the omission is intentional, and it is not required to make the point the Holy Spirit wants to make.  The detail given is to be our focus.

Not Needed
I was privileged to equip members of underground churches in a country a couple of years ago.  As I typically do I focused our time on 2 Peter.  One of the questions in the overview is when was the book written, based on your observation.  The answer is in 2 Peter 1:14, toward the end of Peter’s life.  One of the men wanted to know how old Peter was when he was executed.  I said I did not know.  He said he needed to know that to understand the passage.  I pointed out that was not the case.  In other passages in the Scripture, notably Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles we are told the ages of people and are given enough data to determine how old they were when they died.  Not so with Peter.  So it is apparently not important to know that in order to get what the Holy Spirit wants us to see.

We Have What We Need
2 Peter 1:3 – 4 tells us that God has given us all we need for life and godliness.  That includes all we need in the text of the Bible.  Secondary sources can be helpful, but most of us go to them much too quickly.  We should spend more time in observation.  That should be our focus.

Tomorrow I will share the observations I made on John 5:6

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Seeing, No Hearing Patterns

Today
This afternoon I drove from Tulsa to Huntsville, TX.  Came down here to pick up my dad to bring him back to Tulsa to be with our family for Christmas.  For the past several months when I travel I have been listening to the Bible.  Today I listened to Acts once and the Gospel of John just about twice.
Seeing, NO, Hearing Patterns

Redeeming the Time
Usually I am more of a visual and kinetic learner.  However, I have learned in the last few months that when I have been studying a passage, and then listen to it, I hear things that I did not see in the overview or in the section by section analysis.

Different Perspective
Today I heard something in Acts 13 that will help me with a current project, and heard a pattern in John dealing with locations in the book that gives me a line of inquiry for the book that I had missed.  The point is that we need to immerse ourselves in the Word.  Whether we read or listen.  The more we expose ourselves to a book, the more we will observe.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Persistent Correction

Recent History
Several times in the past few weeks I have shared the things the Lord is challenging me on in my prayer life (here, here, and here).  Now He is using the books I read.
Persistent Correction
Good Books
I just finished Carson’s book on Jesus’ final discourse and prayer, and picked up his work on Philippians.  In the first he spends a great deal of time on John 17, Christ’s high priestly prayer, it is great stuff.  In the second book he unwraps Philippians 1:9 – 11.  He then recommends that we all do what I did, look at Paul’s prayers and use them as a guide.  What he says is worth repeating:

…It takes only a moment’s reflection to see that all these petitions are gospel-centered. These are gospel prayers. That is, they are prayers offered to advance the work of the gospel in the lives of the Philippian believers. And, by asking for gospel fruit in their lives, the ultimate purpose of these petitions is to bring glory to the God who redeemed them. 
How much do such petitions feature in our praying? When was the last time you prayed that the brothers and sisters in Christ in your congregation would abound in love more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that they might discern the best things and prove them out in their own experience, being filled with the fruit of righteousness, to the glory and praise of God? 
What do you pray for? Thank God that some do pray along these lines. But many of us devote most of our praying, in private and in public, to personal matters largely removed from gospel interests…But where is our gospel focus? Read through the letters of Paul and copy out his prayers. Ask yourself what it is he asks for. Observe how consistently most of his petitions are gospel-related. Are we being faithful to Scripture if most of our petitions are not? 
Put the gospel first. And that means you must put the priorities of the gospel at the center of your prayer life.
(D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 22.)

Persistent Father
It is great when someone you admire validates what you have seen, but it is also true that the Lord is using several different means to challenge me on how I pray.  I best pay attention.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Antichrists

Discussion
This morning the Wednesday study was in 1 John 4.  During the discussion one of the men remarked that there was a lot of emphasis on false teaching and false believers, Antichrists.  It is stated in 1 John 2:19 that these false teachers, these Antichrists were part of the community.  His point was that this was only a short time after Christ’s earthly ministry and there were already challenges.
Antichrists
Persistence of Errors
Christ refers to this in the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24 – 30.  Peter after affirming the reliability of the Word of God and its inspiration by the Holy Spirit, immediately reminds his readers that there will be false and deceptive teachers of the Word in the Church.

This was less than 60 years after Christ.

Errors Multiplied
We are now roughly 2000 years after Christ.  It might be the case that if so close to Christ’s earthly ministry that there was already deception and false teaching in the Church, that it is probable the level of deception and false teaching may have increased in those intervening years.

Contributing Factors
What is causing this?  What do we do about it?  The Roman church for years kept those in their congregations separated from the Word.  The Bible was the exclusive domain of the priests.  They told the people what to believe.  William Tyndale was executed for his work of putting the Bible in the hands of the people.  One of the tenants of the Reformation was the priesthood of the believer, the reality and responsibility of each believer to abide in God’s Word and to minister that Word to others.

Abandoning Our Rights
But we seem to have regressed.  Slowly it seems that we have given back the gains of the Reformation.  We have relinquished the study and mastery of the Word of God back to the leaders.  We seem to be content to allow the pastors and teacher to study the Word and then tell us what it says.  Seems a bit like what the Reformation was trying to correct.

Ill Equipped to Correct
It is the case that not everything a pastor says, a teacher shares, or an author publishes in a “Christian” book is truth in terms of its alignment with the Bible.  If I am reading Acts 17:11 correctly it is each of our responsibilities to make sure that what we are reading and being told aligns with God’s Word.  One contributing problem though is that most churches are not equipping their members to actually do this.

So, we have false teaching pretty much everywhere we turn and most of it is not being challenged.

From where I sit it seems like something needs to change.

Monday, December 14, 2015

In the Foxhole

Three times today I ran across men who are deep into the battle.  By that I mean that they all sustain significant ministries.  We had prolonged conversations that dove deeply and quickly into the struggles we have in pursuing engaging people in walking with Christ.

In the FoxholeWe talked about what the Lord was showing us in the Word, and how it was impacting our lives.  We talked about how to maximize the impact of the Word on, in, and through our lives.  We shared challenges, frustrations, hopes, and what the Lord was teaching us through these struggles.

It was not all that long.  But it did not take long.  They were warriors, we are facing many of the same challenges, and definitely the same enemy.  It was a much richer exchange with these men than what we usually label fellowship in our communities, spilling coffee over one another as we talk about the latest ailment, challenge with the family, or the prospects of one’s favorite football team.  Sure, those things need to be addressed – they are a legitimate and needed communication in our communities, but if that is the sum and substance of our conversations, I might suggest that there is much missing.

In D. A. Carson’s book on Philippians he says:
…in our conversations we ought regularly to be sharing in the gospel; that is, delighting in God, sharing with one another what we have been learning from his Word, joining in prayer for the advance of the gospel (not least in the lives of those to whom we have been bearing witness), encouraging one another in obedience and maturing discipleship, bearing one another’s burdens, and growing in self-sacrificial love for one another for Christ’s sake.  (D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 19.)
I could not agree more.  There was a qualitative difference in those three conversations today.  While I want people to pray about my cancer, I am more edified when I hear about how they are faring in the battle with the enemy for the souls of people.  It is much richer and the time flies.  To me that is the essence of Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24 - 25.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Error Correction

Training Jet Pilots
In the Air Force my job was to teach men to fly primary jets.  There are three phases to undergraduate pilot training, or there were, contact, instruments, and formation.  Primary jets, then, was in the T-37.  It is a subsonic aircraft with a top airspeed of around 287 knots.  That may seem fast to you but it isn’t really.  In the next phase the student went to T-38s, I do not remember the top speed but on takeoff it accelerated to 300 knots in about 15 seconds.  So, much faster.
Error Correction
Fixing Errors
It took some time for a student to get ahead of the aircraft.  That means that he was thinking about what he was going to do long before he actually was going to do it.  All of the maneuvers we taught had precise parameters that had to be met.  There were multiple reasons, one of which was that in instrument flight, one had to maintain altitude, heading, and airspeed precisely to safely execute an instrument approach.  The reality was and still is that humans are not all that precise.  So flying, and flying well, was learning to more quickly recognize errors and move to effectively and safely correct them.  Truthfully, flying well was continual and consistent error correction.

Walking with Christ, following Him, is as well.

Constant Correction
One of my mentors says that the Christian life is a constant journey out of idolatry into true worship.  He meant that like the students I was training to fly, as believers there are things that we believe, hold as strong convictions, that are simply errors.  We have to continually measure what we believe, even what we are taught, against the Word of God.

Individually and in the Body
It happened in my church this morning.  One of our associate pastors corrected something another associate said a few weeks ago.  It wasn’t overt, but it was a correction nonetheless.  Pricilla and Aquila, pulled Apollos aside after he spoke in Ephesus and corrected his errors, Acts 18:24 – 28.  Paul publically corrected Peter in Galatia when he violated the position of the Church on the inclusion of Gentiles, Galatians 2:11 – 21.

2 Timothy 2:15 reminds us that we are to handle the Word of God accurately.  We will not always do so.  It is important that we both listen to and give correction when someone shares something that does not align with the Word of God.  Of course the presupposition for that assignment is that we are engaged in the Word at a deep enough level that we are able to both recognize error and able to show from the Word how to correct it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dysfunction

Conversations
There were two conversations I had today about two hours apart that landed in the same arena.  Both conversations dealt with issues in the Church.  But the conversations centered on manifestations of the Church here and then halfway around the world.  The issue was the same.  Dysfunction in the Body of Christ.
Dysfunction

Key Word/Concept
The key word in that first paragraph is “Body”.  In Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 we read not only about the gifts with which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give to the Church but why and how they are supposed to be used.  In each case the gifts are given not to edify the individual with the gift but to build up others in the Body of Christ.  The Ephesians passage tells us the reason, the purpose of the gifts, and the intended result…
…to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  Ephesians 4:12 – 16

Central Dysfunction
The problem both conversations dealt with was the reality that this is not happening in the churches very much.  Equipping is more than lecture.  It is more than a 20 minute message once a week.  Think about how you were equipped for your work.  If you were like most people you got much more instruction than a 20 minute message once a week.  You were also tested on what you learned.  You were observed.  You got feedback on how you were doing.  I do not know of one church that trains leaders or engages the gifts of their people in this manner.  That doesn’t mean they do not exist.  But it does mean that I have never heard of or encountered one.

The Result of Dysfunction
The result is that the leaders are doing and are expected to do the ministry.  After all that is what they are hired to do, isn’t it?  The problem is that is not what the Word says they are supposed to do.  So we end up with pastors and staff that are stretched really thin.  We end up with churches that Prof likened to a football game, with 80,000 people in the stands who are desperately in need of exercise, watching 22 people on the field who are in desperate need of rest.

These things ought not to be.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dealing with Controversy in Unity

Troublesome Issue
An issue has arisen in my sphere of influence that has caused me to question my involvement with a Christian group with which I have a lengthy history.  This group seems to be in violation of a clear directive of Scripture.  The difficulty for me is that the core of what God has called me to do is to equip believers not only to study the Word of God on their own but to also apply it to their lives and ministries.
Dealing with Controversy in Unity
Life Context
Concurrent to this I am studying the Gospel of John, and reading D. A. Carson’s book on Jesus’ last discourse with the 12.

Help…not really
I was reading in Carson’s book this evening.  He was working through Christ’s prayer in John 17, specifically Christ’s prayer for the unity of believers in John 17:20 – 24.  Carson’ point is that while we are already unified in Christ, we have to work at perfecting that unity.  That does not do his point justice but will do for the current purpose.

I struggled with his point.

What is the Right Course?
The group is ignoring a clear statement in Scripture.  So that raises several questions for me.  How do I maintain the unity of the Body, while standing strongly on the directives of the Word?  At what point, if any, do I separate from that group on the basis of their settled disobedience.  Is it even right to separate on that basis?

It Will Be Resolved
Eschatology informs me that all of us will eventually be unified in the Kingdom of God.  Do I need to continue to engage knowing that this will be resolved in the Kingdom?  Paul certainly called Peter out for not following the decrees of the Church in his hypocritical behavior in Galatia – should that be the model?

My Task
It was clear after working through these questions that I needed to dig into the Word in a specific area before I decide.  It will not be an easy study.  But we are not called to live an easy life, we are called to radical obedience.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Here or There

The Lord has allowed me the privilege to work with men and women, equipping them to study the Bible on four continents.  Each week, online, I meet with people on three continents – the technology we can bring to bear for the Lord is simply overwhelming.
Here or There
I have learned something in the past seven years.  There seems to be more hunger for God’s Word everyplace other than where I live.

Last week I was sick and had to cancel all of my scheduled meetings.  I tried really hard to keep the Thursday night session, but it hurt to talk.  Thursday is an online version of the 10 week workshop I do.  Counting mine that group is in four time zones that spans a total of 12 hours’ time difference.  The men with which I meet are in three time zones spanning four hours.  I got on early with the intention of telling them that I needed to just hear if they had questions and then I needed to end the session.

When I launched the application we use, all five men were waiting for me.  That has never happened.  I have done a bunch of workshops.  I have never had all the participants show up before I do and there has never been a time, here at least, that people did not come late.

Not only were they waiting, they had, for the most part, done more than I had expected them to do.  I was humbled, excited – well as excited as I could be with a fever of 101.

What is going on?  Why is it that there is so much hunger for the Word seemingly everywhere but here?  It may be because we have so many resources, so much opportunity that we take it for granted.  On my radio I can find four or five broadcasts without much effort that have some level of Biblical content.  If I drive from my home to the grocery store, I pass three churches and a Christian college.  There are at least three Christian Book stores within five miles of my home.  I haven’t counted the number of Christian TV stations, but there are more than we will ever watch.

It has been that way since I have been a believer, yet I have been in countries where there were people who had never heard the name Jesus.

I do not do much.  It seems like, in the grand scheme of things, very little at all.  But, what the Lord has allowed me to do – scares me.  I am fearful of the accounting it seems my home will face.  We have been given much, Luke 12:47 says much will be required of us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

From Above

Nick at Night
You probably have most of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus memorized.  At the very least you are familiar with the scene.  Nicodemus comes to Christ in the night to find out more about this teacher.  The whole “born again” thing that was so big in the 70’s comes out of this passage.  There is a slight problem…
From Above

From Above not Again
The Greek is γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, literally born from above.  Matter of fact, in many of the other places ἄνωθεν occurs, it is translated from above, Mark 15:38; John 3:31, 19:11; James 1:17, 3:15, 3:17 are a few examples.  Working through the passage initially I thought that the committees translated ἄνωθεν again because of Nicodemus’ response in John 3:4, but as Robinson points out, Nicodemus’ confusion does not determine the meaning of Jesus’ words (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jn 3:3).

So What
In the context both usages of “born from above” are passive.  That means the action is done to the person being born, it is not their action but someone else’s.  I have often pondered John 3:8 and wondered about the wind analogy.  It makes more sense if we translate γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, born from above.  We do not control the wind, we only see its effect.  Same thing with being born from above by the Spirit.  We do not control that process either.  It is the work of the Father, Son, and the Spirit.

That theme is consistent in John.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Stopped

I have been writing this blog since November of 2011.  Until last year I had not missed a day.  This fall I have missed a few but never more than a day.  I got sick this week.  I went to bed Tuesday afternoon and basically got out of bed yesterday.  I canceled everything on my calendar.  It hurt to talk.  Since that is what I do in most of my meetings that made them impossible.
Stopped
This blog has been a sustained obedience.  It seemed to me that the Lord was asking me to do this.  I am not doing this for the number of page views or likes, but out of obedience.  It was something that I thought and still think the Lord wants me to do.  So I do.

In the past when I missed, I felt some sense of loss.  I have been released from that.  I will still write everyday but it is no longer a task, it is more of a sense of worship – no that is not right, it is more of an offering…

The passage that comes to mind is Romans 12:1 – 2.  This is a living sacrifice with the purpose of being conformed to Him.  I think it is a reminder to me of what He is doing in my life each day.  The illness forced me to cancel two online studies with men who are in other countries halfway around the world, as well as the studies I have locally.  Those are the things that He has given me that have in the past seemed to give me value, significance, if you will.

The reality is – and I have written about this lately – He is enough.  What He does in my life daily is enough.  He is, or should be, the focus and all that I need.

It is a shame, I think, that it took putting me on my back for four days to remind me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

24 Days Left...

Tis the…
So it is December 1st.  Black Friday was four days ago, yesterday was Cyber Monday.  You may be getting flooded with wish lists from friends and relatives.  Many are working their budgets to see how much they can give to their family and friends.  There is a lot of pressure.  Decorating, celebrating, parties, the end of yet another year…
24 Days Left
Blurred Season…
In the midst of all of that, sometimes the Advent gets blurred.  It is settled that Christ was not really born now, but now is when we celebrate His birth.  It is a challenge, sometimes difficult, with all the Christmas movies, songs, stuff, to keep in focus what this is really all about.

Remember to Focus
As hard as it is, work to keep in focus what is really important now.  It is the Advent.  That gift is much better than anything that will be given you or you will give anyone else.  You might want to spend some extra time in Luke 2 to help you with this.  I do.