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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Contentment

You ever heard that we are supposed to be content as believers?  You may have even memorized Philippians 4:11 – 12 in order to help you remember that we are to be content in all circumstances.
Contentment
Did you memorize 2 Corinthians 12:10 – 11 as well?

It is one thing to be content with humble means or prosperity, it is something else again to be content with:
  • Weaknesses
  • Insults
  • Distresses
  • Persecutions
  • Difficulties
That is a whole different level of contentment.  That takes a level of trust in and perspective on what God has said He is doing and is going to do in our lives.

Many of us, myself included, are not content when people do not go when the light turns green.  That did not even make Paul’s ball park.

I don’t know about you but I have a lot to learn about contentment.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Build it Up

Earlier this month I shared some thoughts about the purpose of leadership, I stated that authority, leadership is given for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.
Build it Up
In that post I shared a list of all of the places the word that is translated “build up,” οικοδομη (oikodomē), is used in the New Testament.  One of those references, 1 Corinthians 14:3, came up in my reading a few days ago.

In 1 Corinthians 14:3 Paul is speaking about the effect of the gift of prophecy on the Body of Christ.  There are three effects of this gift on the Body, edification which is our word οικοδομη (oikodomē), exhortation, and consolation.  Earlier in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that the gifts are given for the common good.  That is reinforced in Ephesians 4:16 where Paul tells us that each of us, each part of the Body, as it works properly causes the building up, again οικοδομη (oikodomē), of the Body.

Bottom line?  All leadership and every gift of the Spirit given to the Body, of which each believer is a recipient, has the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.

Each of us.  Not just leaders.  Each of us is gifted for a purpose.  Each of us is to steward the gift the Spirit has given us and use it in building up our communities of faith.

As the commercial says, “Just Do It.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Casting Burdens

Are there passages that the Lord continues to use in your life?  Psalm 55 is one of those for me.  A couple of weeks ago that Psalm spoke to me yet again.  Look at Psalm 55:22.
Casting Burdens
In that verse David describes one imperative for us that results in two actions by the Lord.
  • We cast our burden on the Lord
  • He sustains us
  • He will not allow us to be shaken
That picture in itself is sustaining.  But there is more.  I remembered other verses with that same imagery:
  • 1 Peter 5:6 – 7 (more casting)
  • Philippians 4:6 – 7 (how to cast)
Coming to the Lord, bearing my soul to Him, casting my burden on Him:
  • Sustains me 
  • Makes me unshaken
  • Humbles me
  • Exalts me
  • Guards my heart
  • Guards my mind
It is not that the requests are granted.  It is that assured confidence that the sovereign king of the universe is involved in my life, intentionally.  I can rest and have peace that he is engage in whatever I am dealing with at the time.

That is a good deal.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Presence and Prayer

The Tuesday morning study is finishing up 2 Corinthians this week.  We finished the chapter by chapter study last Tuesday sharing what we learned in chapter 13.
Presence and Prayer
Take a minute and read through those 14 verses.

There are at least three take aways for me in this passage:
  1. Paul invested a lot in this community.  On his second missionary journey he spent 18 months teaching the Word of God.  So he spent more time only in Ephesus.  What happened in Corinth was similar to what Paul told the elders of Ephesus would happen in Acts 20:29 – 30.  The church was assaulted by false teachers and the Corinthian church drifted from what Paul and his crew had shared with them.  Thus the two letters.  The take away for me is that regardless of how much we pour into our kids, an individual, or a community there is the reality that the enemy will continually and intentionally work to lead them astray.
  1. Paul left Corinth after 18 months.  Paul got reports from there and sent some of his people there to continue the ministry.  Seemingly as soon as he left the false teaching and the drift away from the truth began.  This suggests that we need to have a consistent presence in mission efforts.  While short term missions are transformative for those who go on the mission, it is the ones who stay that have the greatest impact.  In either case, whether present or absent, those who were impacted by the mission must be reminded of the truth continually.
  1. Twice in Paul’s closing remarks he mentions that he is praying for the Corinthian church, 13:7 and 9.  There are three things that Paul prays for them:
    • That they do no wrong.
    • That they do what is right.
    • That they will be made complete.
The first two of Paul’s prayer focus are presented in two contrasting statements.  He is praying that regardless of their view of him, they will do no wrong but do right.  Significant implications there which space and time precludes investigating.

This last take away is huge for me.  The work Paul did in Corinth was not complete.  He had to remind them but more importantly he had to pray for them.  Our main work in investing in our families, others, and our communities is in prayer.

I am weak in that.  Lord teach me to pray.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Burning Concern

A few months ago I wrote 2 Corinthians 11:28 – 29 on one of the pages in my prayer folder.  That passage turned up again in my devotional time (M’Cheyne Reading Plan).
Burning Concern
I am struck by Paul’s intense concern for all churches.  By the way the last phrase of 29, translated in the NAS, “without my intense concern”; in the ESV and NRSV, “and I am not indignant”; and in the NIV, “and I do not inwardly burn”; in the Greek is literally, “and I not burn”.

That phrasing from Paul reveals a heart that reaches beyond the immediate to embrace all that the Lord is doing in His Body.  It occurs to me that if it is the case that we are to be imitators of Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1, then we should have the same burning concern for the entire Body of Christ.

When we hear of a church or organization that is struggling or drifting away from the truth, we should burn.  If it is the case that we are to seek first His kingdom, then part of that kingdom focus is for us to burn with concern for our brothers and sisters who are not only in other communities of faith in our town, state, or country, but also for those who are following Christ in other countries.

One practical way to do so is to get a copy of Operation World and use that for prayer fodder in your time with the Lord.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Appeasing the World

A few days ago Ezekiel 13:2 – 3 was in my reading project.  Thinking through that passage led me to four others:
  • Ezekiel 22:25
  • Ezekiel 22:28
  • Lamentations 2:14
  • Jeremiah 23:28 – 32
Appeasing the World
Reading that you get a clear picture of the state of leadership for the nation.  They told the people what they wanted to hear.  They shared their own ideas.  They did not hold fast to God’s Word.

This seems like a commentary on what is happening now.

I reviewed two academic catalogs today.  I get them because I am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.  Among the Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Ethiopic texts were a number, great number of works that were essentially dealing with issues that the world is attempting to force on the Church.  Unfortunately, some seemed to be aimed at portraying the Body as tolerant and responsive.

The issues that those works addressed are covering behavior that the Word says is sin.  There is no Biblical way to say that behavior is not sin and remain true to what the Bible says without redefining words or critically removing passages from the discussion.

We are living under constant pressure to conform to the world, Romans 12:1 – 2.  We are under constant attack by the enemy to remove the influence of the Word of God on our communities, Mark 4:13 – 20; 1 Peter 5:8.

We are in danger of doing what the Pharisees did with the Law; redefine to align with our image, our thinking, our ability to obey.  The problem with that is clearly outlined in Matthew 5:3 – 7:27, with the kicker coming in Matthew 5:28.  The standard, the standard that we cannot escape is the nature and character of God.  If we are not like Him, and the world some are attempting to appease is not even in the ball park, we are not in the kingdom.  We will never see it.

As a pastor friend of mine said recently, we have to hold up and exalt God’s Word.  We have to heed what is says, we have to obey its author.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Negotiating the Kingdom – 2

Day before yesterday we started this.  Look at 1 Samuel 15:22 – 23.  God is not interested in our intention, He is concerned with obedience.  Further, He is not interested in our altering His plan as Saul did in this case.  No matter the resistance Saul got from the people, God expected obedience.
Negotiating the Kingdom – 2
Saul’s partial obedience was viewed as full disobedience.

Paul, in Romans 15:4 reminds us that passages like these are written for us.  They are instructive.  We should learn from them.  In the first post I referred to Matthew 5:48.  Perfection.  The perfection of God is the standard.  It is by that standard our obedience, our lives will be measured.  It is not how well we do in comparison to say Adolf Hitler.  This is not a competition.

The standard – the perfection of God – is impossible to meet.  Which is the point of Matthew 5:3 – 7:27.

For me or anyone else for that matter to obey requires the empowering grace of God in full measure.  I am incapable of obedience apart from the enabling life of the Savior, Galatians 2:20.  I can only obey through the Spirit’s help.

There is no negotiation, no deal that I can strike for a lesser standard.  It is what it is.  I cannot meet the standard, which leaves me outside the Kingdom.

But…

The great, awesome news is that if I choose to follow Christ, His life, death, resurrection, and ascension becomes mine.  Since He is the standard and since His life becomes mine, then through Him I measure up.  Not by my obedience, but by His.  For the reality is no matter how hard I work at it, my obedience will never be complete.  Romans 6.

I am grateful for that truth.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Negotiating the Kingdom

Since I got back from the overseas project last month I have been processing some of the reactions to the Word that happened.  I have mentioned this in the past month, there was resistance to obedience to the Word of God.
Negotiating the Kingdom
I asked those participating to write questions that they wanted the group to answer as they worked through the topics we addressed.  At the beginning of each topic I asked them to write down questions that they had about the topic that they wanted the group to discuss.

During the session where the resistance started, I remarked to them that the questions they asked were similar to the questions I have heard in the United States and other counties.  One of them came to me after the session and said that the questions had to be unique because of the hostile climate in which they live.

I reminded her that every word that was penned in the New Testament was penned under duress.  All of the apostles were martyred, there are some who hold that John was also martyred.  Paul wrote some of his epistles from prison.  Peter wrote from prison as well.

As I have thought through this exchange as well as the others during that time, I am struck by the universal reaction to the Word that just may be human nature.  It is not just those who are in difficult circumstances that conclude that because of their "unique" circumstances they cannot obey the Scripture.  We all do that at some level.  We often engage with the Scripture as if we were in negotiations with the Lord as to what He really wants us to do.

Actually what He wants us to do is pretty simple.  Obey.  1 Samuel 15:20 and Matthew 5:48.

It is not a negotiation.

There is more, I will continue this tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Purpose of Authority

Yesterday I suggested that one of the reasons leaders fail is that they become more concerned about how people are responding to them than in obeying the Lord.
The Purpose of Authority
That suggests at least one important question.  What is the purpose of leadership in the community of faith?  There are probably multiple responses to that question.  Paul gives his thoughts in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and again in 2 Corinthians 13:10.  In both places Paul insists that Jesus gave him authority to build up believers.

That may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you consider leadership.

The word that is translated “build up” is οικοδομη (oikodomē).  You can get a sense of how the term is used by looking at how it is translated in the New Testament.  Here are all 18 of the instances of the use of οικοδομη.

If Saul had had the attitude that God gave him authority to build up Israel, perhaps he would have worked at building up David rather than trying to kill him out of jealousy.

Jealousy, comparison, and competition have damaged the ministries of many leaders.  We must both be aware of this and also watch for it in our leaders.  A cursory reading of 2 Corinthians reveals that Paul used his authority in a selfless way that demonstrated his exhortation to the Philippian church in Philippians 2.

It is not natural for us to respond in this manner.  It requires the grace of God active in our lives.  It requires abiding in Him, John 15:5.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Starting Well, Ending Poorly

What do you think of when you think of King Saul?  First image I get is him begging his armor bearer to kill him, and when that did not work falling on his sword.  He did not end well.  But he started really well.
Starting Well, Ending Poorly
Look at these passages:
1 Samuel 9:21
1 Samuel 10:16
1 Samuel 10:23
1 Samuel 10:27
1 Samuel 11:13

The picture painted is one of a humble man who is surprised and resistant to the attention.  He does not seek attention or acclaim.  Rather he hid from it.  What happened?  How did he get off track?

He did so quickly.

Now look at:
1 Samuel 13:8 – 9, 11
1 Samuel 13:14
1 Samuel 15:7 – 21

Saul either forgot or never realized the purpose of authority (more on that tomorrow).  He became more interested in what people thought of him, whether they esteemed him and followed him, rather than doing what the Lord had commanded him to do.

That is a subtle trap.  A couple of weeks ago I was working with a group of people in another country.  The first day the conversation, although in a language I do not speak, was spirited and the feedback from the interpreter was encouraging.  The next day the energy in the room was significantly less.  I could not tell how they were responding to the passages we were discussing.

My initial reaction was to wonder what was going wrong.  I wrote about that in my journal – by the way, that is one of the best ways for the Lord to get my attention.  It slows me down and I am able to hear His prompting much better.  The key for me is to be honest about what I am thinking and with what I am struggling – the Lord reminded me that it was not about their reaction.  It was about my obedience to Him.  My doing what He had laid on my heart to do.  The result was not my responsibility, it was His.

That is partially what Saul forgot.  It is a trap for any leader.  It is easy to get focused on the result of what we are doing rather than whether we are doing what God had directed us to do.  Sometimes we can get so focused on doing, that we forget to ask what it is He wants.

It is then that we are beginning to walk in Saul’s path.

Not a good direction.

Friday, September 9, 2016

An Inquiring Heart

In there is a thread that runs from 1 Samuel through 2 Samuel.  It is “inquiring of the Lord.”  The two main actors in that thread are Saul and David.
An Inquiring Heart
Here are the relevant passages:
David Saul
1 Samuel 23:2 1 Samuel 18:6
1 Samuel 23:4
1 Samuel 30:8
2 Samuel 2:1
2 Samuel 5:19
2 Samuel 5:23

Note that every time David inquired of the Lord, David got an answer.  Saul, on the other hand, did not.

Saul, though chosen by God to be king, nearly immediately after Israel was united behind him, disobeyed God.  In 1 Samuel 13:8, Saul was to wait for Samuel to offer sacrifice.  When Samuel was late, Saul, when he saw the people leaving him, offered the sacrifice himself.

Note Samuel’s response to this in 1 Samuel 13:14.  The Lord is looking for one after his own heart.  That is how David is described in Acts 13:22 with the words out of 1 Samuel 13:14.

Saul though chosen, never had the heart that David did.  David though he struggled, came to the Lord for direction even when the circumstances seemed to be identical.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Trusting Omnipotence

Take a look at 1 Samuel 14:6.  The context is that Jonathan and his armor bearer are sneaking up on the Philistines.  Jonathan is doing this on his own.  He has neither told his father nor asked permission.  He just went.
Trusting Omnipotence
What strikes me about this passage is the last part of the verse, “…perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”  In this statement Jonathan places himself in sharp contrast with his father, Saul.

Jonathan was willing to risk his life and the life of his armor bearer on his faith in the Lord’s ability to act.  Saul did not think this way.  Later in the chapter, 1 Samuel 16:37, Saul inquires of the Lord, but the Lord does not answer him.  Already, the relationship between Saul and the Lord is blocked.

Jonathan’s action is based on his belief in the omnipotence of God.  There is no force that the Lord cannot defeat.  Numbers are not the issue.  The issue in whom Jonathan trusts.

I wonder what application, if any, that has for our missions.

On the surface Jonathan’s action may seem presumptuous, reckless.  But his action is evidence of one who has placed himself completely in the Lord’s hands and is sold out to doing whatever the Lord wants.

If I had to choose I would follow Jonathan’s example rather than Saul’s.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

More Results of Hope Misplaced

Skim through 1 Samuel 9:1 – 10:27.  As you see it is the story of Samuel following the Lord’s direction in picking Saul to be the first king of Israel.
More Results of Hope Misplaced
Note what we read about Saul:
Verse Saul's Response
9:21 Saul does not understand the attention Samuel is giving him.
10:16 Saul did not tell his uncle he had been anointed king.
10:22 Saul hid by the baggage rather than be introduced as king.
This reads like a man who is humble and not impressed with himself.  He was overwhelmed by the attention and did not promote himself as king.

What happened?  Although he seemingly started well, he finished incredibly poorly.

Instead of humble and overwhelmed, he became self-centered and entitled.  The office became his focus, his identity, his hope.  Not the Lord that placed him in that office.

Regardless of what the Lord does for us.  Regardless of the opportunities He gives us.  Regardless of the things He enables us to do for Him.  It is He who is our focus, our identity, our hope.  To begin to revel in what He enables us to do for Him, is to follow hard after Saul.

Not a good plan.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Source of Hope Examined – 2

Continuing the thought from yesterday…  If it is the case that I do not have boldness in my speech based on the saving grace that has been provided me by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of my Lord it may be that the source of my hope is misplaced.
Rather than having rejoicing hope in the completed work of the Savior in my life, it is in my position, etc.  That being the case then my lack of boldness is based on fear of losing that in which I have placed my hope.  If that hope is placed on anything other than Christ’s work, I will lose it.  That is certain.

1 John 4:18 tells me that perfect love casts out fear.  That would seem to suggest that if I lack boldness, then my love of Christ is less than perfect.

By the way I am writing this for myself.  I desperately need this reminder.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Source of Hope Examined

Yesterday I suggested, well actually it was Samuel and Paul, that boldness in proclaiming our faith and trust in Christ is based on our rejoicing hope.  How does that work?  Why does it not seem to work more than it does?
Source of Hope Examined
I have mentioned that I recently returned from a two week mission in a country that is hostile to Christianity.  Sharing one’s faith is illegal.  Especially if one damages the faith of one who practices the dominant religion in that country.  Interacting with those who were in underground churches there, resulted in resistance to the notion of bold proclamation of the gospel, for fairly obvious reasons.

But one does not have to live in that type of culture to resist sharing the gospel.  In my experience, personal and observed, those of us who are believers are fairly creative in finding reasons why we should not speak to others about Christ.  The threat of rejection leaps to mind.  We build up rejection of the gospel as a personal attack.  We hesitate or do not share because we see doing so as involving some personal risk.  Whether that risk be loss of reputation, job, standing, or whatever.

That seems to indicate that those of us who are hesitant to proclaim boldly the grace of God to those who are doomed to a torturous eternity may have placed our rejoicing hope in something other than that grace given salvation that we say we have received.

Rather than rejoicing in the hope of our salvation, perhaps we are rejoicing in our comfort, the salary we earn, or our great standing in the community.

One question to ponder and then I will try to finish this tomorrow…  If we are obedient to our Lord and we are seeking His kingdom and righteousness first, what would be some reasons we would not proclaim the freedom He has provided us in Christ, in season, when it feels right and comfortable, and out of season when we feel threatened and diminished?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Source of Hope

A few days back I was reading 1 Samuel 2:1, I was struck by the last half of that verse, “…my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.”  I immediately thought of 2 Corinthians 3:12:
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
Source of Hope

The source of our boldness is rejoicing hope in the salvation of our God.

Think about that.  I want to develop it further.  In the next day or so…