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Monday, January 16, 2017

No Return

Something that will help you in the first step of any Bible study, observation, is to look for repetition.  In the Bible repetition is a bit like the teacher stomping their foot at the front of the class to let you know that something may show up on the test.
No Return
For instance in John 15:1 – 16, abide is repeated 11 times; fruit is repeated 8 times.  So what is emphasized there?

A similar emphasis shows up in Amos 4:6 – 13.  There a phrase is repeated 5 times, “‘Yet you have not returned to Me’, declares the Lord.”  That is not just a device by the publishers of your Bible to make a point, the Hebrew in each case is identical (וְלֹֽא־שַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עָדַ֖י נְאֻם־יְהוָֽה).  Read through that passage, it is sobering.

The Lord is calling Israel to repentance.  He is disciplining them.  He has disciplined them with:

  • Famine
  • Drought
  • Crop Destruction
  • Plague
  • Overthrown by God

The result of this discipline?  Israel refused to return, to repent.

We read in Hebrews 12:4 – 13 that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves.  He does so, according to the text, so that we can share His holiness.  We read in James 1:2 – 4 that trials are to be considered joy, because they produce endurance.  Paul agrees with James in Romans 5:3 – 5.  These trials and discipline are to refine us, increase our faith, help us to endure.

It would serve us well to embrace James’, Paul’s, and the writer of Hebrew’s advice.  Lean into the trials, the discipline while praying like David did in Psalm 139:23 – 24.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Closely Girded Word

Romans 15:4 tells us that what we read in the Old Testament was written both to instruct us and to give us hope.  Many of us do not spend a great deal of time studying or reading through those 39 books.  We spend most of our time in the New Testament…  Remember, though, for the writers of the New Testament, the Scriptures were those 39 books.  So we should be instructed.  We do need do so with care.  We need to make sure that we do not take ideas out of context nor should we allegorize what we read.
The Closely Girded Word

That being said, and attempting to follow my own advice, look at Psalm 149:6.  I was stunned by this passage.  The combination of high praise and a two-edged sword was striking.  When we imagine worship, at least when I imagine worship, I think more in terms of guitars than swords.

That terminology reoccurs in Hebrews 4:12.  There the Word of God is referred to as a two edged sword.  In Nehemiah 4:17, those building the wall with Nehemiah are portrayed as carrying their work out with one hand while holding a sword in the other.  In Ephesians 6:10 – 20, where we read about the full armor of God, we read that the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit.

It makes me wonder if the writer of Hebrews and Paul had Psalm 149:6 and Nehemiah 4:17 in mind when they penned those passages.  What it does bring to mind is the centrality of the Word of God in all aspects of our experience as believers.  Whether in worship, work, or ministry, the Word should be in one hand while we are doing worship, work, or ministry with the other.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Skillful Trust

Sometimes when we are looking to get things done we look for skill.  Or we will study to attempt to learn what we need to do in order to accomplish what is in front of us.  While that is commendable, a great practice, I am fairly sure that it is not enough.
Skillful Trust

The sons of Reuben, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were valiant men.  They were described as skillful in battle.  They were in a pitched battle with a larger army.

Look at 1 Chronicles 5:14.

They were helped.  They were skillful but in the midst of the battle they cried out to God.  They were helped not because of their skill, but because in the midst of that for which they had trained, that for which they had great skill, they trusted in Him.

It is imperative that we steward our skill.  It is not an accident that the Lord has given us the experience and gifts with which we are equipped.  We are to continue to hone and refine and learn – become ever more skillful.

When that skill converges with the task for which the Lord has designed us, Ephesians 2:10, it would be easy to trust in His training, His shaping our lives, the experience through which He has brought us, but that would be a grave error.  As the sons of Reuben, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh we need to cry out to God, in the midst of doing that for which He has given us skill, that for which we have trained, we need to trust in Him.

He is our help.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Different Perspective

If you think you understand something in the Bible I would recommend studying that text with someone from another country.

I meet weekly with a pastor in a country that is predominately Muslim.  He is the pastor of several underground churches.  We have been meeting together for about four years.  We meet on line using the third video conferencing vehicle in four years.  The government there has blocked the three others we have used.

A Different PerspectiveI have been there five times.  Three of those trips were to help him equip the people in the churches in the word and for leadership.  We finished our study of Acts a few weeks ago and we started a study on 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus last week.  Last week we did an overview of the three books as a whole and this week we were in Titus 1.

His observations in Acts were much different than the observations of the men with whom I was studying the book here.  Why?  He is living through many of the same issues.  He is facing some of the same issues in his churches that I am working on in a church I have been asked to help.  Namely, developing and equipping leaders.

I thought I had a pretty good handle on the qualifications for the role of elder in Titus 1.  Then he started asking about some of the specifics of the requirements that Paul outlined as they applied to a Muslim convert.  I found myself hesitating with my answers.  I know the people about whom he was asking.  I know the struggles they have being converts in a Muslim family.  My response after we talked for a while was that I needed to spend more time in that passage and the others that deal with elders and I needed to pray about his questions.

So do the issues in the culture mean that we set aside certain of the requirements as they pertain to the family?  Or do we follow what Paul outlined trusting in what the Word says is right and that the sovereignty of God is over that ministry condition?

I am struggling with this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Faulty Seeking

1 Chronicles 15:13 gives us a dire lesson to ponder.  In 1 Chronicles 13, David commits to move the ark of God to Jerusalem.  You probably are familiar with what happens.  The ark is placed on a wagon and as the wagon passes a threshing floor the oxen pulling the wagon do something to jar the ark so that it begins to topple over.  Uzza puts out his hand to keep the ark from falling over.  Problem.  He is not a Levite.  He is not supposed to touch the ark.  Neither is the ark supposed to be on a wagon.  God strikes Uzza dead on the spot.
Faulty Seeking
David is angry.  He leaves the ark there and the farm prospers.

Fast forward to 1 Chronicles 15:13.  David acknowledges his approach to the Lord was wrong.  He came to the Lord, to serve the Lord, with good intentions but on his terms, not God’s.  It may have been more efficient and quicker to move the ark in a wagon.  But, that is not the way that God had commanded the ark was to be moved.

David acknowledges that and goes back to the task correctly.

As I read and thought through this event in Israel’s history there are some lessons for me.  I have to come to the Lord on His terms not mine.  At an elementary level that means that I have to come to Him through His son, John 14:6.  But as I thought through this there may be more.  I tend to come to Him on my terms more often than not:

  • Without confessing my sin
  • On behalf of what I want done, my kingdom, not His
  • For the furtherance of my agenda, not His

I am instructed by David’s failure.  It highlights my own.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Show the Way

The great thing about the Bible is that it gives us a model, several actually, of how to engage in sharing our faith with others.  Yesterday we looked at the power of our personal testimony.  The power of sharing the impact that our relationship with Christ has on us.
How to Show the Way
One model we have for sharing our testimony is Paul in Acts 26.  Look at how Paul shares his story with Agrippa:

  • Acts 26:4 – 11 – What Paul was like before he met Christ.
  • Acts 26:12 – 18 – How Paul met Christ
  • Acts 26:19 – 23 – How Paul’s relationship with Christ has impacted him.

Note that there is a connection between Paul’s experience before and after meeting Christ.  He was zealous against the faith prior to meeting Christ and zealous for the faith after.

So the pattern is before, how, and after.  Note that if you read it out loud as if you were sharing it, it only takes about two and a half minutes.

Not long.

Effective.

One thought connect, if you can, before and after like Paul did.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Showing the Way

Have you ever needed to show someone how to share their faith?  Their testimony is the easiest way for them to start.
Showing the Way
Someone I recently met in a country where Christianity is suppressed was asked by a family member why they were so happy all of the time.  The person shared that they had trusted Christ.  It was a risk.  It was a testimony.

The family member did not immediately react.  Shortly after though that family member went on a religious pilgrimage.  Half way through the pilgrimage they returned home.  They told my friend that those on the pilgrimage were continually fighting, stealing from each other, and stealing from stores on the way.  They said to my friend, “These people cannot behave this way while serving a true god.  Tell me more about Jesus.”

Simple identification with Christ, contrasted with the dominant religion in the area, led this person to the Lord.

How do you help someone share their testimony?  I will outline a way that may help you tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Kangaroo 3.0

If reading through Acts 23:12 – 22 seems like Déjà vu all over again there is a good reason for that.  The leaders of the Jews do to Paul what they did first to Jesus and then to Stephen.

It seems if they did not like what you were doing they would hire people to lie about what you had said and would then seek to kill you for the crime of blasphemy.  The common denominator that triggered this action was their perception that these men were about to impact their power and control.  Since they could not honestly refute them, they lied about what they were doing.

I am forcing myself at this point not to draw parallels from current events…

But the question I would pose both to myself and to all who seek to be apprentices of Christ, “Where have we been pulled to stretch the truth to gain favor, power, or influence?”

Something to consider…

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Oops

Several years ago, 39 to be exact, my wife and I were at a staff training center for a Christian organization.  I was required to work at a part time job 20 hours per week, study the Bible 20 hours a week, and then I could go to the dorm to which we were assigned to lead the ministry there that was usually more than 20 hours a week.
Oops
This one is right, I think...
One of the Bible studies we did was on spiritual multiplication.  The directions for the study were fairly broad.  We were to look for generational chains in the text of the Bible and make observations about what we saw.  Essentially it meant that we scanned the Bible for these, it was before personal computers and Bible programs…

Genesis 5 was one of the places that I spent some time.  I was intrigued by the way the men’s lives were described, Genesis 5:6 – 7, for example.  So having an engineering scale and being a bit of a geek, I drew out the chapter in time scale.  I was floored to realize that a couple of these men died in the flood…

Not so fast…

This morning my reading brought me around to Genesis 5 again.  I was curious so I opened up one of my graphics programs and redrew the illustration, this time using the computer to set the time scale.  Apparently, I had miss measured the two men I thought died in the flood…

The point is, I make mistakes.  There are things that I think I have figured out in the Word, that on a closer look I may have misread or missed something in the context or misapplied a cross reference, and honestly there have been times I have taken things out of context.

Doesn’t matter how careful I am, I still can make a mistake.  That is one reason that when I take a position on a passage, I try to hold it tentatively.  I find that interacting with others that have studied the same passage is a significant help.  It both helps me because they will see things I did not, and sometimes they will point out errors I have made.

This Christian life thing is a journey.  There are times that I can get off track.  The great thing is that I do not have to be perfect throughout this cruise.  Jesus has already been perfect for me.  Frankly, it isn’t about getting everything right anyway is it?  Really, it is about getting to know the one who was perfect for me better.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Proportionality

If you have studied Acts you know that it is the account of the leading of the Holy Spirit in the development and spread of the Christian message first through Peter and then through the missionary journeys of Paul.
Proportionality
The book forms a background for most of the rest of the New Testament.  All of Paul’s epistles with the exception of the Pastoral Epistles can be tied to events in Acts.

I want to propose a question for you.  One of the principles in understanding a book is the law of proportionality.  That is events or sequences that proportionally take up more of an author’s focus are thus emphasized in the book.  An example of this is the Gospel of John.  The gospel covers roughly three years of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Chapters 13 – 17 cover roughly 6 hours, nearly a fourth of John’s gospel.  Looking at the content, one realizes that the meat of the book is in those 5 chapters.

Acts is similar.  Most times through the book I tend to focus on the missionary journeys.  I look at how Paul’s passion for the gospel plays out during each of those efforts.  Additionally, I look at what he did to equip those who were traveling with him, specifically Timothy, I look for the “things” he learned from Paul in the presence of many witnesses (2 Timothy 2:2).

But that is not the longest part of the book.

Acts 21:27 – 28:31 covers the arrest, imprisonment, and transport of Paul to Rome.  The missionary journeys are covered in a total of about four and a half chapters.  This part of Paul’s life takes seven of the chapters Luke penned for us.

So my question is, why?  Why invest so much space and detail to something that on the surface does not seem to be as important as the spreading of the gospel all over the Mediterranean?

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Protection

In Acts 18:1 – 17 we find Paul toward the end of his 2nd missionary journey.  This one was a bit different than the previous journey.  He stayed longer in places.  This is toward the end of this journey.  We find him at Corinth and we see that he invests 18 months into the people of that church.
Protection
Just before Paul “settles” in Corinth, the Lord tells him in Acts 18:9 – 10 that he is to speak freely and no one will attack him anymore.

In the next paragraph the Jews rose up and brought him before the procounsel.  Gallio was unimpressed with their charges and sent them away.  Paul was not beaten, but the leader of the synagogue was beaten.

God had promised Paul protection.  Here we read, immediately, that protection was given.  Not only was it given God used the Roman government to protect Paul.  This was not the first or the last time in Acts that Paul’s status as a Roman citizen was used by the Lord to advance the gospel and protect His messenger.

Point is, we can trust our Lord in our endeavors to spread His Word.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Irresistible

We have seen in Acts 12:1 – 23 that Herod through all that he had at his disposal to stop the spreading of the gospel.  Not only did he fail.  God took him out.
Irresistible
Look at his impact on the spread of the gospel, Acts 12:24.  There was no abatement, essentially no effect.

The implications here seem to be that even though a wicked leader was doing all that he could to snuff out the gospel it was he who was being destroyed not the gospel.  The word expanded rapidly.

The world and religion can use whatever means it has at its disposal, it cannot thwart the sovereignty of God.  Neither the World nor religion can stop the Lord from building His Body nor can it keep one of His chosen from a relationship with Him.

This is great encouragement in the cause of the spread of the gospel and engagement in mission.  I read a passage in D. A. Carson’s book, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10, that gives Biblical perspective on our responsibility to share the good news even in the face of persecution:
First, our willingness to face opposition, and the cogency of the reasons advanced for not fearing it, depend utterly on a biblical Christianity that weighs everything from the perspective of eternity. If there is no heaven to be gained or hell to be shunned, if the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation to God are not the most important things both for this world and for the world to come, then none of the arguments makes sense. Conversely, if these biblical perspectives constitute the fundamental realities of our existence, whether they are widely recognized in fallen human society or not, then it is folly to ignore them. What is said to find is that form of belief that nominally assents to the existence of eternal realities, but does not act on that voiced assent. Such a tragedy is not merely inconsistent; it is dangerous. To put the matter another way: we cannot really see what biblical Christianity is all about until we live in the light of eternity. Only then do our responsibilities in this world come into sharp focus.  (Page 274)
The gospel and our God behind its spread is irresistible.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Disciple or Pharisee

For the past few months I have been working with a group that is focused on increasing the level of discipleship in their community.  It is a great objective.  A noble goal.
Disciple or Pharisee
In the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the effort.  John 5:39 – 47 has continually come to mind as I have pondered this.  There Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews, these folks had the first five books of the Bible memorized.  They studied the scripture.  Paul was one of their number.  He outlines his experience and commitment in Philippians 3:4 – 16.

The knowledge of the Scripture, while crucial – after all Jesus tells us in John 15:7 we are to abide in His Words – is not, in and of itself, enough.  The whole purpose of what we do in discipleship, the purpose of the disciplines is to know Christ.

If we are doing all of the “right” Christian activities and yet our knowledge of Him is not increasing; we are not drawing closer to Him, we are badly missing the point.

It is not about our doing or knowing the right things.  It is about knowing the right Person, Jesus.

If you know someone who is focused on knowledge and not relationship, pray for an opportunity soon to encourage them to readjust, realign their thinking.