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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Finding

John 14:6 is a passage you probably have memorized.  It is perhaps only slightly less well known than John 3:16.
Finding
As I read this the other day, it occurred to me that the import of this passage is that no matter what we are seeking in this life, Jesus is the fulfillment of that search.

If we are seeking purpose, He is the way.

If we are seeking reality, He is the truth.

If we are seeking meaning, fulfillment, health, healing, happiness, significance, He is the life.

The search is over, we should be about finding.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Insulation

What is the purpose of insulation?

Insulation reduces the ability of an atmosphere either inside or outside a building to escape out or penetrate in.  It isolates us, puts a barrier between us and a climate.  It allows us to control our surroundings and our immediate atmosphere.
That’s great.  Life is better with insulation.

The Christian life however is not better with insulation.
Christ commands us to abide in His Word.  John 8:31 – 32; John 15:7 are examples of this.  There are so many more that it would be more than a little redundant.  Both the old and new testaments are full of examples, Psalm 119 is a prime example.

But it seems that many of us are insulating ourselves from the Word of God.  How?  We use secondary sources rather than engage directly with God’s Word.
  • We need to honor those who share the Word with us, we should listen to good messages, but that message is not the Word of God.  Hopefully it is the result of the messenger’s personal engagement with the Word, but it may not be.  Some people who speak are sharing what they read in other secondary sources.  Either way, it is not direct involvement with the Word, there is a layer of insulation, not all of it is getting through.
  • Fill in the blank or other types of Bible study guides are really helpful.  I have used them and in some cases still do.  But in those studies someone else has directly engaged with the Scripture and is leading you through what they learned.  You are being steered in the direction of their conclusions both by the references they ask you to consult, and the questions they ask about those passages.  Again, a layer of insulation…
  • I am currently reading through two or three books that deal with Biblical topics.  If you could see my office you would note that I am literally surrounded by books and my Bible program has hundreds more in its library.  While I am helped by those books, they are, again, someone else’s work.  Someone else dug into the text and wrote what they saw.  I can benefit, but it is a layer of insulation between me and the text.
The point of all of this is that as good as some speakers, study guides, and Christian books may be, they cannot be our primary input.  They are not even a pale substitute for diving into the Word on our own to work through a verse, a chapter, a book, a topic, or a character.

The challenge is that many of us have not been shown how.  That is the purpose of this ministry.  If you need help with this, let me know.  I will help you take down the insulation.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Miracles

I have not written since the 10th because I have been living answered prayer, miracles.
Miracles
I have mentioned earlier in this blog that our family has been facing several life and death issues in the past seven months.  One of our children experienced a miscarriage, my wife’s mother passed away, my father had a car wreck that fractured several ribs, had emergency surgery, was hospitalized, was hospitalized and passed away, while I was admitted into the same hospital.

Over all of that one of our children was diagnosed with cancer when 9 weeks pregnant.  All of these together have taken us through a significant school of prayer.  The lessons learned in that area are too numerous to name.

Last weekend child who was pregnant with cancer delivered a healthy baby girl, 9 weeks early, after undergoing 6 chemo treatments.  The child graded out in the NICU four weeks older than she was at birth.  Her weight was double that of other children born in the same conditions.

Overwhelmed, thankful does not capture our emotion.  We are still dealing with the cancer, but at a level that is less than we anticipated, another miracle.  There are still significant needs, we still need one more miracle.  We are trusting Him.

However, Daniel 3:17 – 18, is guiding us.  He is able and has provided us with several miracles in the course of this stretch.  We trust Him.  We beseech Him.  But, regardless, we are thankful for His grace, mercy, and engagement with us.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Just or Fair?


Just or Fair?

Amos 5:24 is one of 27 times that the Hebrew word that is rendered “justice” in our Bibles appears in the minor prophets (Hosea, Amos, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Malachi).
How would you define “just”?

A quick look at the web suggests that the current understanding of the Word is similar to the definition of “fair”.  Fair is a concept that is talked about in politics, social media, and a myriad of other venues.

However, God is never described as “fair.”  That is not the force of the Hebrew word.  A quick survey of all of the uses of מִשְׁפָּט (mispat) seem to suggest that the term means alignment with the law.  It is not fair in the sense that it is normally used today.  It means compliance to the law.

Since in the Bible God is the source of the Law, one could suggest that “just” is in alignment with His nature and character.

It is not a subjective concept.  However, fair, seems to be.  There is significant debate on what is fair.  However, one is either in compliance with a law or one is not.

There seems to be a distinct difference.  Which begs the question, “Why is justice, so central in these books?”

Friday, March 10, 2017

Passive Christianity

I have sat on this for about three weeks but it won’t go away.  It seems to me that many in our communities are passive Christians.  In this context a passive Christian would be one who is continually taking in information.  Continually perhaps, even regularly listening to messages, reading Christian literature, and attending Christian events.  In other words high levels of preprocessed input.
Passive Christianity
However, a passive Christian is not personally engaged in self-feeding on the Word of God.  They are committed to what the writer of Hebrews refers to as milk, Hebrews 5:11 – 14.

What is milk?  Predigested and processed protein.  Someone else has done the eating of the meat.  There are all kinds of Christian milk available.  Books about the Bible, fill in the blank studies, messages on mp3, blogs, studies on disk, all of which I have used and from which I have derived benefit.  However, that, according to Hebrews 5:11 – 14, should not be our primary or continual input.  We are supposed to grow past that.  We are supposed to graduate to meat.  (By the way this is repeated in 1 Corinthians 3:1 - 3.)

How?

Practice.  We are to engage in the Word personally.  We move.  The word train here, is the Greek word from which we derive gymnasium.  We should be working out in the word.

But those in the Christian communities have to be equipped, they – well all of us – need personal trainers.  At the gym we need help to understand how to exercise properly.  We need that so we do not injure ourselves.  In our walk with God, we need people to equip us in how to study the Word for ourselves, that seems to be what Paul is suggesting in Ephesians 4:11 - 16.  In the New Testament we read that is exactly what the disciples did they showed people how.  They did not just tell them what.

All this brought the image above to mind.  In the movie Wall-E the people never moved.  They never ate solid food.  They were addicted to milk.  It was the robots that moved.  It was the robots that served.  The people didn’t even turn their heads to speak to one another, they used their media.

Perhaps it is time for some meat eating practice.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

More Parallels

Look at Job 35:16 and 1 Timothy 1:6 – 7.
More Parallels

In both cases the notion is that people are speaking without knowledge of what they speak.  If we are honest with ourselves we have all done that at one time or another.  I know that I have.  Or I speak beyond what I know making extensions to the topic for which I have no real knowledge.

Another, error I make is repeating what others have said or written without checking to see if they have used the data in a manner consistent with the intent of the author.

I had a seminal experience in seminary.  In one intercession class, we read two books by well-known Christian authors.  They were on opposite sides of a debate.  We looked at the sources they quoted as well as the passages they cited as support for their positions.

Both authors mishandled their source material; either misquoting or misrepresenting the context or import of their citation.  Both also, at some level, did not handle the Scripture carefully.

That experience emphasized to me that just because a well-known author has written and been published by a reputable publisher, does not mean that what they have written will withstand Biblical examination.  My conclusion was and is that I must lean on the Bible.  I can read and benefit from the thoughts of authors, and I read rather extensively.  But, I am responsible to validate what I read Biblically.  If I quote or use their material without first checking their work, I am in danger of opening my mouth emptily and multiplying words without knowledge…

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Parallel

Parallel
Page out of my journal noticing the parallels...
You ever notice that there are passages that are nearly parallel in their meaning and even in their vocabulary?

I noticed this the other day reading through 1 Corinthians 3:1 – 3.  It occurred to me that Hebrews 5:12 – 14 was nearly word for word the same.

It seems to me that when the messages of two passages are that close, we perhaps should pay attention.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Intentional Encouragement

Yesterday I shared some more on the concept of negative prep.  We are going through that at the moment, have been for some time.  I struggled with this last night in prayer.  I have learned over the past months that it is better to praise, to worship God, to seek Him rather than seek what He can do for me.  So a lot of what I did last evening was focused on that aspect of our relationship – there was also weeping.
Intentional Encouragement

This morning – and I cannot count the number of times this has happened – I opened my journal and recorded the current events that precipitated the struggle.  Then I wrote down the passages from the reading program I use, prayed Psalm 119:18 and started reading.

Job 36:13, was in the reading today.  That started me on a journey.  The way that works, normally, is the Lord brings passages to mind that support or extend the thought.  It happened again this morning.  The Lord took me to:
  • 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • Hebrews 12:10 – 11
  • Ephesians 2:10
There were a couple of others that came to mind, Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:5, but the essence was in those first four passages.

When we are in trouble, stress, difficult circumstances, we have to cry out to the Lord.  He is in control, He brought those circumstances into our lives for a reason.  The promise, the reality has at least two component upon which we can absolutely depend.

First, He will not take us through circumstances that are beyond our ability to endure (as I am writing this more passages are coming to mind, Romans 5:3 – 5 and James 1:2 - 4).  Second, those circumstances, those difficulties have at least three purposes:
  1. To share His holiness.
  2. To produce the fruit of righteousness in our life.
  3. To equip us for the specific purpose He intends for our life.
By this I am not in any way diminishing the pain or difficulty of some of the trials.  No, they are difficult and often painful.  But, in the midst of those trials the anchor is that there is purposeful intention that is guided by the love, goodness, and faithfulness of our Lord.

It is to that I can confidently cling.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Negative Prep

In 1987 I was going through a difficult transition from a ministry that I loved into something that was as yet undefined.  It was a painful and traumatic time.  During that period I met with Bobby Clinton, the author of The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development.
Negative Prep
He listened to my story and in a few minutes shared what he called, "negative prep".  The idea is that God was pushing me out of the ministry I loved so that I would be able to do the next thing that He wanted me to do.  Over the past 30 years Clinton has been proven correct in spades.

There are Biblical examples of this.  One is in Exodus 1:12 – 13.  Israel grew so much under affliction that the Egyptians were in dread of them.  Further, the difficult labor that they were given prepared them for the rigors of the exodus.  It physically prepared them for the hardship of walking while carrying all that they had as they fled Egypt.

For the past seven months we have been experiencing a difficult time.  The details are not important.  What is important in the midst of any difficulty is to remember Bobby Clinton’s term, “negative prep,” and to hold tight to the One who is preparing us.

He is good.  He loves us.  Even when things seem the darkest, we can know that He is committed to our preparation for His purposes.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Him With Us

Note: There was a pretty significant typo in yesterday's post.  I listed the wrong passages in Luke.  I have fixed that if you want to check out what I meant to say...

You probably have Matthew 28:18 – 20 memorized.  You know that the promise that accompanies that command is the Lord will be with as we obey to the end of the age.  I my reading in the past month I have seen that theme thread through the Bible.
Him With Us

Look at:
Exodus 3:11 – 12
Mark 3:14
John 14:16
John 14:26
John 16:7 – 15

The implications seem to be that when He calls us or assigns us a task, ministry, etc.  He is there with us throughout.

Some of the tasks are difficult.  I am pretty sure that without His presence, I would fail.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Given the Words

There are three passages that connected for me a few weeks ago.  I don’t know how it works for you but when I am working through the Word if there is a passage that is really speaking to me it tends to remind me of other passages I have studied or read.
Given the Words
Sometimes I remember where they are.  Other times I have to search for them.  I use my Bible program to find them.  Often I do not remember the exact wording.  So I have to search for a phrase or combination of words.

In just about every case the effort reinforces the message that the Lord has pointed out in the original passage.

Here are the three, in order:

  • Exodus 4:11 – 13
  • Luke 12:11
  • Luke 21:12 – 15

You’ll note the last two are connected.  That is because Luke 12:11 was the passage I remembered, the other was a cross reference after I located the passage – it is always a good idea to look at the context…

I was overseas a while back.  I was in a country that is hostile to Christianity.  We had been called to the police station.  Walking over there I was thinking of this passage and wondering what hymns Paul and Silas were singing in Acts 16:25.  It turned out that we did not need hymns.  The police were “concerned for the American’s safety”.  They wanted money from the people who had rented the house to us.

Regardless, these passages remind me that I am completely dependent on the Lord for the words I say.  Not just when under duress.  I need to be trusting Him even when, perhaps more so, I am engaged in discussions with believers.  Whether it is about our walk with God or our service for Him together, I need to trust Him for His words, His leading, not my words or ideas.

That requires, more than anything that I know, to do what Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Too often I engage my tongue before my prayer is in gear.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Remember this Day

Look at Exodus 13:3 – 16.
Remember this Day

The Lord is commanding, exhorting, emphasizing to the nation of Israel that they are to remember that He, with a powerful hand, brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

Four times in those verses He reminds them of what He did, what they are supposed to remember.

They didn’t.

In a matter of days they were grumbling that He brought them out to die.

I tend to forget what God has done for me.  Latent Israeli tendencies I suppose.

He has done so much more for me.  He died for me.  He rose breaking the power of death for me.  He lavished His Spirit on me.  He has brought people into my life who have instructed and mentored me.  He has guided me and formed me for His purposes that He set for me before the foundation of the world.

Yet I forget.  Yet I grumble.  I need to remember.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Entrusted Stewardship

I have mentioned 1 Corinthians 9:17 once before.  It will withstand another look.
Entrusted Stewardship

In Chapter 9, one of the things Paul is sharing is his commitment to evangelism, sharing the gospel.  He views his responsibility for the gospel as a sacred trust.  In fact in 2 Timothy 2:2 he uses a financial term that describes trusts in describing what Timothy is to give to those whom he is equipping.

The great commission tells us that we are all, like Paul, entrusted with what Jesus taught the disciples.  That is validated by Christ’s prayer in John 17:20.  We share that trust that was given to Paul.

Paul was gifted.  He was at least gifted in teaching, exhorting, and probably as an evangelist,  My gifts include exhortation and leadership, but not evangelism.  But that does not absolve me of the responsibility, the trust, the requirement to share the gospel.

Regardless if I do it voluntarily or as a stewardship, it is still my assignment.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Who Hardened Whom?

If you read through Exodus 7 – 12 you will read several times that Pharaoh hardened his heart or his heart was hardened by the Lord (if you want specifics here is a list of the passages).
Who Hardened Whom?

Paul refers to this situation in Romans 9:17.  If we look at Exodus 7 – 12 from Pharaoh’s point of view.  He was calling the shots, he was the one who was hardening his heart.  Yet if we look at it from God’s perspective, according to the text both in Exodus 7 – 12 and Romans 9:17, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Why?

That God’s name would be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.

Proverbs 21:1 supports this as well.  God has control and can direct the heart of a king.

It struck me that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted by man’s choices.  He is not bound by the whims or decisions of man.  He can and does channel those thoughts and choices, as illustrated here with Pharaoh.

One application of this personally, is that I can rest in that truth.  When I am faced with a difficult leader, boss, person, situation, I can know for certain that God’s purpose in that situation cannot be stopped.  I also, based on 1 John 4:16 – 17 and Romans 8:28, can trust that the situation is a manifestation of God’s love and goodness.

That is an anchor for me in difficulty.