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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Confusion of Obedience

Exodus 5:22 – 23 is instructive.  Moses has been called by God to go to Pharaoh and demand he let Israel go to worship God.  Pharaoh is not playing along.  Moses is doing exactly what God asked him to do.  The result is hardship on God’s people.
The Confusion of Obedience
Moses is questioning why it is he was the lucky one that got to anger both Pharaoh and his countrymen.

There is a lot of teaching out in the Christian ether that if we obey God, things will work out.  That teaching is basically correct depending on what you consider “work out” to be.  If it means that you will not get resistance, things will go smoothly, you will get a promotion, a big raise, and live a peaceful existence, you will more than likely be disappointed.

Christ obeyed God perfectly.  Do I need to expand on that?  I will…  He was resisted by the enemy and the religious leaders of the time relentlessly, to the point where they executed him.  We are expected to imitate, follow Jesus.  Paul did.  He experienced similar treatment, as did Peter, James, John, pretty much all of the 11.  Unless one redefines some key words, it is difficult to validate that obedience to the Lord in this world leads to smooth sailing.

If you have a differing perspective, I would be interested in hearing how you validate your position Biblically.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Two Modes of Slavery

I have often returned to 1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23 for a checkup.  Paul tells us there that in the process of doing all things – not some things, not a weekend or a seminar, or a part time volunteer in a ministry no, all – for the sake of the gospel; part of that process is to make himself a slave – he could have used the word servant, but no, he penned, “slave” – to those who do not know Christ.
Two Modes of Slavery
That passage has served to both challenge and rebuke me over and over again along with 2 Corinthians 5:11 – 21.  It reminds me that central to my every action should be the furtherance of the gospel.

There is a major wrinkle in my application of those passages and the subsequent making a slave of myself.  Some, make that more than some, of the people that I meet that are non-believers I don’t like very much.  Yet there it is smack in the middle of 1 Corinthians 9, I am supposed to ignore my reaction to these folks and become their slave so that they can come to Christ.

Which brings me to the last paragraph in 1 Corinthians 9:19 – 23.  My reactions to less than polite people requires the self-control to which Paul refers.  He is describing an intentionality in his purpose, his choices.  The purpose is to win people to Christ.  To do so he makes his body a slave to his purpose, his intention.

So rather than trying to get back at those who are defaming him, he commands himself to not react and seeks to lead them to his Lord.

I have a long way to go in imitating Paul.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


What do you fear?  I just took a survey on some upcoming publications.  One of the books dealt with ISIS and the Middle East.  I travel in that area from time to time.  Many are fearful of the spread of that entity.  Images of ISIS members beheading Coptic Christians leap to mind.  It is a reasonable response to wish to avoid that experience.
This morning though I was struck by Luke 12:4 – 5.  Christ instructs us not to fear those who threaten to kill us with that being the limit of their threat.  That short statement has staggering implications.

First it assumes that there is something worse, much worse in fact, than death.  Second, it tacitly claims that there is existence after death.

We tend to focus on the event of death.  But the implication of Christ’s command here is that should not be our focus.  I am currently reading, I believe I have mentioned this before, D. A. Carson’s book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation.  In it he points out that the ground of all of Paul’s prayer is a focus on the reality that we are to live eternity in the presence of Christ, in our glorified state.  Carson’s point is that is what drove not only Paul’s prayer but his approach to life.  He lived in light of his ultimate end, which guided his prayer and his life choices.

In Luke 12:5, Jesus tells us why we should not fear those who threaten murder.  His reasoning aligns with Paul’s or better Paul’s aligned with Jesus’.  Those who would kill us have no power over us after they do so.  God however, has the authority to cast us into an eternity in Hell.

That is something to fear.

Friday, February 26, 2016

More Validation

Thursday is my long day.  We have a Bible study at 0600 with three men who went through DTTB about two and a half years ago.  There were 7 when we started.  Some have started other studies and life demands have moved others out of that study.  At 0800 I meet with a Moroccan pastor online.  Like the earlier study we are in Acts.  Right around lunch I meet with a guy who went through a half day workshop 4 or 5 years ago, he wanted to go deeper so we are working through the studies that we cover in the 10 week workshop.  Finally, at 2100 we had the last of the 10 week workshop online with some men in Russia and Kazakhstan.  It is Thursday evening for me and different times on Friday for them.
More Validation

I am continually blown away by what we can do now with video conferences.  Thursday covers three continents.

But that is not what strikes me about Thursday.  Each of the men in those four meetings have been believers for some time.  Each of them have learned from our time together how to dig into the Word of God for themselves.  The tools that they have accumulated are really pretty simple.  But for the most part they were new to them.

The intriguing thing in working through this with this diverse group of men, is to see a similar reaction on three continents.  When a man can take a simple tool and use it to pry open his Bible and study it perhaps for the first time without someone leading him through the process, it is literally life changing.  Men see things they have never seen or thought they could see in the Word, and they did not use the notes in a study Bible or a commentary on the book to get it.  It is theirs.  Each and every time they light up.

So that experience each Thursday spanning about 17 hours, validates again that if you give someone a set of tools, their Bible, and get out of the way, what Jesus promised actually happens.  The Holy Spirit shows up and leads them into truth, John 16:13.

The question I keep asking is why it is so difficult to get men engaged.  There is another question, but I will leave that one unasked…

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Some Validation

Yesterday I shared that I saw John 11:1 – 44 as a model for prayer.  The major take away being that we need to be praying for God to be glorified in all that we pray.  This afternoon I was reading in D. A. Carson’s book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation.  Working through Philippians he came up with the same observation.  He says it better than I and is worth quoting in whole (by the way I highly recommend the book):
Some Validation
D. A. Carson
The Goal of Paul’s Prayer
“We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him” (1:12). Having listed his petitions, Paul now discloses the two-part goal of such prayers.
1. Paul seeks the glorification of the Lord Jesus. This first part is common enough: “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” For Paul, his concern that Christians might be counted worthy of their calling, and his deep desire that God might fulfill their good, faith-prompted purposes, can never be ultimate ends. True, they are valued ends, things deeply to be desired, things to be prayed for. Yet they are only proximate ends; the ultimate end is that the Lord Jesus be glorified in consequence of such growing maturity and fruitfulness on the part of believers.
The Christian’s whole desire, at its best and highest, is that Jesus Christ be praised. It is always a wretched bastardization of our goals when we want to win glory for ourselves instead of for him. When we arrange flowers in the church, or serve as an usher, or preach a sermon; when we visit the sick, or run a youth group, or attend prayer meeting—when we do any of these things, and more, with the secret desire that we might be praised for our godliness and service, we have corrupted the salvation we enjoy. Its purpose is to reconcile us to God, for God must be the center of our lives, the ground and the goal of our existence. Indeed, Christ himself, the agent of God in creation, is the one of whom Paul elsewhere declares that all things were made by him and for him (Col. 1:16). Lying at the heart of all sin is the desire to be the center, to be like God. So if we take on Christian service, and think of such service as the vehicle that will make us central, we have paganized Christian service; we have domesticated Christian living and set it to servitude in a pagan cause.
Our pilgrimage as Christians need not be very far advanced before we ruefully recognize that even our best service, motivated by the highest zeal, is regularly laced with large doses of vulgar self-interest. We learn that these sins, too, we must confess and seek to overcome. Paul recognizes the problem, and articulates the proper goal in his prayer: “We pray this,” he writes, not that you may be thought remarkable Christians, or so that you may gain a reputation for perseverance and spirituality and power throughout the Roman Empire, but “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.”
D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 57–58.
Good stuff, get the book.  The second point is the glorification of believers.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Frustration of Unanswered Prayer

This morning we were in John 11.  You know the story, Lazarus and his sisters.  Working through John 11:1 – 44 there were a lot of great observations.  Something that struck me, this seems to be a model of our ongoing struggle with prayer.
The Frustration of Unanswered Prayer
Graphic by David Hayward -
Lazarus is sick.  Like we do, Mary and Martha have a relationship with Christ.  They ask Him to come and deal with their brother.  It is a request.  Much like when we pray and ask the Lord to intervene in a situation we face.  Note also that in the context John emphasizes that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters.

Notice how Christ responds:
John 11:4 - This situation is for the glory of God and Christ
John 11:6 - Christ delays in going to Bethany
John 11:17 – 27 - Martha’s reaction
John 11:29 – 37 - Mary’s reaction
John 11:38 – 44 - Lazarus healed

There was purpose in Lazarus' sickness.  There is purpose in all that happens in our lives.  That purpose is generally the glory of God, but specifically to form us, make us into the instruments that we are to be in order to do the work for which He designed us.

The delay in answering Martha and Mary’s summons resulting in the death of their brother, was an act of love.  Delay, delay that resulted in a seemingly hopeless situation, was love and for the glory of God.

From Mary and Martha’s perspective, Christ did not respond to their request.  It was an unanswered summons, prayer request.  But that was not the case.  First there are no unanswered prayers.  “No,” is an answer, as is, “Wait.”  What can we learn from this?

If it is the case that all that happens in our life is for the glory of God, our prayer should reflect that reality.  1 John 5:14 – 15 tells us that if we ask anything according to God’s will He hears us and we will have the request.  It would seem to follow that if we are praying in each situation for God to be glorified, two things; our hearts would be more aligned with His and our prayer would be more effective.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Only Evil

A few days back I posed a question.  I asked that people fill in the blank, “People are basically __________.”  Good?  Bad?  Something else?  I got one answer on the blog and one on another person’s Google+ page.
Only Evil

Here are a couple of passages for your consideration, Genesis 6:5 and John 3:19.  Based on those passages it seems the word that goes in the blank is “evil”.

So why do you think that most people will instead fill that blank with, “good?”

Friday, February 19, 2016

Change Agent – Part 7 – The Process

What can we learn from Peter’s experience?  Is there a pattern, a process, a principle that we can extract from this?  I am not sure that this is hard and fast, but it seems to be something to which God may continue to respond.  I see seven steps that Peter went thorough on this journey:
Change Agent – Part 7 – The Process
  1. Prayer – it starts here.  Peter was praying.  Not just cursory prayer.  This was a habit.  He was following the example of Jesus, drawing away from people to spend time in prayer.  It seems to me that if we are to be changed in our understanding of God in a way that not only gives us a more accurate understanding of His will and ways, but impacts our communities of faith, we have to be about the business of consistent and persistent prayer.
  2. Revelation/Illumination/Leading – In the midst of Peter’s prayer God reveals an area of his life that need correction.  Something that Peter was convinced was right, but was wrong.  Peter’s prayer put him in a place where he was receptive to the instruction.
  3. Struggle – When we encounter data or experience that is counter to what we believe it creates dissonance.  We do not like dissonance.  We want things to line up.  In many cases we will discredit the data or experience, or discredit the messenger.  Peter did not do either.  He struggled with what the Lord was showing him.  It was completely counter to what he understood.  Rather than ignore it or chalk it up to some random thought, he embraced the dissonance that it caused in his thinking.  He puzzled over what he saw.  I might suggest that it was the prayer that put him in the frame of mind and heart to not turn away.
  4. Obedience – In the midst of the struggle, Peter acted on what he saw.  He did not just intellectually accept what the Lord was showing him.  He followed through with action.  He went with the men.  He went against what he thought was right.  He went based on what God showed him.
  5. Experience – Peter then heard the testimony of Cornelius and saw the Holy Spirit descend on the Gentiles as it had on him.  He saw that what God was telling him was in fact true.
  6. Testimony – When Peter was confronted by those who held the same incorrect beliefs that he had held, he shared what had happened.  He had authority as an apostle, as one who had been with Christ for three years, as the one who spoke for the group at Pentecost.  He did not use that authority.  He shared what had happened to him and what he had seen.
  7. Change – the result?  Peter’s perspective was changed, at least the change had begun.  But also the Church was changed.  The understanding of the Church up to this point was that this was to be a Jewish movement.  Peter’s testimony altered the understanding of the Church.  The change was immediate but not complete but it was the first major step.
There is a lot more in this passage.  But the things that move me here are twofold.  First, this all starts with prayer.  If I am to walk with God aright, I must be, as Paul puts it in his epistles, always in prayer.  Second, I have been in many conversations over the past years about issues in the Body, the country, the world.  We are not called to sit as spectators and observe what is happening around us.  We are called to be salt, light, in a word, change agents.  It seems to me that in order to do answer that call, we must first be in prayer.

Posts in this series:
Change Agent - Part 6
Change Agent - Part 5
Change Agent - Part 4
Change Agent - Part 3
Change Agent - Part 2
Change Agent - Part 1

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Change Agent – Part 6 – A Lesson?

Change Agent – Part 6 – A Lesson?In the last five posts we have followed Peter’s journey of change.  He held a conviction that prevented him from engaging in ministry to the majority of people on earth.  A conviction that he attributed to God.  A conviction that was formed not by God, but by man.

That should, at the very least, raise a number of questions for us.  What convictions do we hold that is cutting off our engagement with a people that God wants us to reach?  What are we requiring of people that God simply does not require?  How do we come to the point where we can discover that something that we hold as gospel, isn’t?

What did it take for Peter?  Is it reasonable to expect God to work with us in a similar way?

My vote is yes.  I will explain tomorrow.

Posts in this series:
Change Agent - Part 5
Change Agent - Part 4
Change Agent - Part 3
Change Agent - Part 2
Change Agent - Part 1

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Change Agent – Part 5

We have seen Peter move from a conviction, wrong though it was, that it was unlawful for him to associate with gentiles, to the point of welcoming Cornelius, his family, and his friends into the Body and insisting on their baptism.
Change Agent – Part 5
But Peter’s journey of change is not complete.

In Acts 11:1 – 18 we read of Peter’s return to Jerusalem.  Those in the church there took issue with Peter for eating with the “uncircumcised” men.  Peter had authority as an apostle.  He could have used that authority to declare what was to be.  He did not.  Rather, Peter shared in detail with those in Jerusalem what he had experienced starting with the vision on the roof, the Spirit’s urging to accompany Cornelius’ messengers, Cornelius’ vision, and finally the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on these “uncircumcised” men as he was telling them of Christ.

The result?

The church’s understanding of what God was doing in building His Church was altered, Acts 11:18.  The issue was settled – no, not quite.  This issue comes up again in Acts 15, Galatians 2, and many other of Paul’s epistles.  We seem to be slow to change our perception…

This series raises a number of questions which I will pose tomorrow.  It also instructs us on how God may initiate change which may be the most important observation.  I will share that in two days.

Posts in this series:
Change Agent - Part 4
Change Agent - Part 3
Change Agent - Part 2
Change Agent - Part 1

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Change Agent – Part 4

Peter is at Cornelius’ home.  Cornelius has shared his experience with the angel.  Peter is sharing the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the implications of that event.  Suddenly, like what happened to Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on Cornelius, his family, and friends.
Change Agent – Part 4
Peter and the rest of his Jewish party from Joppa are stunned.

Here is the next phase of Peter’s reprogramming.  He has seen the vision and heard the directive to accompany Cornelius’ men.  He has heard the account of Cornelius’ encounter with the angel.  Now he is witnessing happening to gentiles exactly what happened to him and the others in the upper room at Pentecost.

World view shattered.

In Acts 10:47 Peter states, well, pretty much the obvious, these people, who we thought to be unclean, have received the Holy Spirit, just as we have.  Therefore, God has brought them into the Body.  So, as a sign of that we need to baptize them.

In one trip he has been moved from the certainty that he cannot associate with gentiles to the realization that they are now his brothers and sisters in Christ.

But there is more.  God is still not done.

Posts in this series:
Change Agent - Part 3
Change Agent - Part 2
Change Agent - Part 1

Monday, February 15, 2016

Change Agent – Part 3

Yesterday we left Peter in Joppa in the middle of God reprogramming him from a faulty view of the Law.  We pick up the story in Acts 10:23 – 43.
Change Agent – Part 3
Peter arrives at Cornelius’ home and finds not only Cornelius but his entire family and all of his closest friends.  Peter shares that it is unlawful for him to be there – which by the way is what started me down this path.  Cornelius shares that an angel directed him to send for Peter.  Now the reprogramming is nearly done…

Peter is beginning to connect the dots.  The unclean animals on the sheets that God told him to kill and eat.  The directive to accompany men who made Peter, at least in his faulty understanding of the Law, unclean.  Having arrived at a place at which he was sure he should not be.  But he is confronted with the disturbing reality that God had both directed Cornelius to call him and also Peter to come.

Again note the gentleness of God’s dealing with these men.  Rather than a strong rebuke or a confrontation, He is leading them with direction starting with their personal worship.  He has shown Peter that unclean is not permanent.  He has reinforced his command to go to Cornelius’ home with Cornelius’ testimony of the encounter with the angel.  The weight of the evidence that is building up that is counter to Peter’s world view is growing rapidly.

But God is not done.  Not by a long shot.

Posts in this series:
Change Agent - Part 2
Change Agent - Part 1

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Change Agent – Part 2

In Part 1 I said that in Acts 10:28 when Peter told Cornelius that it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with a Gentile he was wrong.  That prohibition is not in Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy.  So why would Peter think that he might be breaking the Law?
Change Agent – Part 2
The reason was Talmudic law.  The rabbis had created laws on top of the Levitical law to keep Israel from breaking the Levitical Law.  The idea was that these “laws” would serve as a buffer for the people.  The rabbis reasoned if they did not break these laws then they certainly would not break the Levitical law.  By Peter’s time the insulating “laws” had become so ingrained, Peter, and most other Jews, viewed them as they would the Levitical Law.  (Evans, Craig A., Isobel A. H. Combes, Daniel M. Gurtner.  The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Acts-Philemon, Volume 2.  Chicago: David C. Cook, 2004, Page 77 - 78 (Google Books, Accessed 2/14/2016).)

With that background, look at what God did to prepare Peter for Cornelius.  Acts 9:1 – 23 describes the process.  Cornelius had a vision while praying instructing him to send for Peter, so he sent three men.  The next day as the men were on the way to find Peter in Joppa, Peter is praying and sees the three sheets vision.  While he is perplexed about what he sees the men Cornelius sent show up.  The Spirit then instructs Peter to greet and accompany them.

We are going to unwrap this fully because there is a lot here.  First, Peter’s world view, the view shaped by his understanding of what he thinks is the Law is wrong.  We know that God can confront.  He confronted Paul in Chapter 9.  Here though God is taking Peter thorough a process, gracefully and gently re-instructing him about what God really wants.  He uses the time of Peter’s personal prayer and worship, to give him instruction through both the vision and a direct word from the Holy Spirit.  This was a shock to Peter.  By his response it is clear that he is hesitant to break what he sees as the law.

Keep this in mind as we move through this passage.  As I said there is much more here.  More tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Change Agent – Part 1

I am still working on my answer to the question about Peter but in the meantime I want to share an observation from Acts 9 – 11.  You know the context.  Saul has met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  While he is recovering and beginning his zeal for Christ, Peter goes to Joppa to raise Dorcas from the dead.  Peter sticks around Joppa for a few days.  He is up on the roof having a quiet time when God does the three sheets vision.  Meanwhile a few days earlier Cornelius was having a quiet time and gets word that he is supposed to send for Peter.  Cornelius sends three to fetch Peter and Peter comes with them to Cornelius’ home.  He tells them about the resurrection and the Holy Spirit shows up in a big way.
Ever wonder how to best effect change?  Thoughts at DTTB.
In Acts 10:28, when Peter arrives at Cornelius’ home he remarks that they know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with them.  That is simply not true.  That restriction does not appear in the Levitical law nor does it appear in Deuteronomy.  In fact it is counter to God’s purpose for Israel as a nation.  Isaiah 49:6, tells us that Israel is intended to be a light for the nations.  Further Psalm 78:5 – 8 outlines how God began to reveal Himself through the nation of Israel to the world.  It would be really difficult for Israel to be a light to the nations if it were unlawful for them to associate with said nations.

What is going on here?

In total this section of Acts is an incredible example of God’s gentleness with His servants.  In the next day or so I will unwrap more of what is happening here.  In the meantime, read through Acts 9 – 11 and make some observations of your own so you can compare notes with what I see.

Friday, February 5, 2016

People are Basically _________

How would you complete that phrase?  Good?  Bad?  Something else?  On what do you base your answer?
People are Basically _________
If you are an apprentice of Christ, how does your relationship with Him impact your answer?  You might want to skim though Matthew...

I was going to write about this at some length tonight but, I am having too much fun with the question I asked on the 2nd.  So I am going to leave this here and ask you to tell me what you think.

Here are the rules.  You have to answer in the comments below and you have to give a reason for your answer.

While you are doing that I am working on my answer to the question about Peter’s salvation.  I will share my thoughts on this question sometime later.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

No Clue

Since September the Wednesday morning study has been in 1 John.  We started with an overview of the book and have been working through paragraph by paragraph since.  This morning we finished the last paragraph in chapter 5.  We started on the summary.  By the way that is the best way to study a book, do an overview, look at the parts individually, and then put everything back together.  Doing that will add richness to your study and minimize whatever errors you might make.
No Clue
The Question
You probably have read 1 John 5:16 – 17.  It is pretty much the standard question when one studies chapter 5, what is the unforgiveable sin anyway?  I have an idea.  One wag suggested that it was picking your nose in public – probably not.  There are a lot of ways that we can go with logic and cross references to come up with a solution, but we really do not have a lot of data with which to work in terms of what John was thinking.

No Answer
So in my study, the title for that paragraph is “No Clue.”  There is a lot more in 1 John that I do understand.  Much that challenges me in my relationship with Christ and with other believers.  I can work hard at trying to solve that problem or I can concentrate on what I know to be true.  In fact “know” is one of the major themes of 1 John.  He tells us a lot that we can “know” and how we can “know” those things.

At Peace with My Ignorance
So rather than coming up with a tentative solution, I choose to apply what I know.  Mark Twain had this one right when he suggested that it was not the things in the Bible that he did not understand that bothered him, it was the things that he did understand.  I am much better served in my walk with God to apply what I understand and leave that about which I am uncertain, clueless, for later light.

That seems to me to be a good practice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Intriguing Question

In a Sunday school class last weekend the teacher posed an interesting question.  It has occupied a lot of my thinking for the past couple of days.
Intriguing Question
The Question
When did Peter become a Christian?

Your Assignment
Play with that a while.  Respond in the comments here I will share my thoughts in a day or so…