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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Illogic of Sin

In Numbers 14 (here @ Bible Gateway), we read about the nation rejecting the land the Lord has promised them because they felt they were unable to take it militarily.  In fact they were right.
The Illogic of Sin
In Deuteronomy 7 (here @ Bible Gateway), 40 years later, the Lord tells the children of those who rejected that land that the nations they are about to dispossess are greater than they are.  But we read there that it doesn’t matter that the nations are stronger, because as Joshua and Caleb said in Numbers 14 (here @ Bible Gateway), the Lord is the one that will cause Israel to be victorious.

That is the context.  I was reading through Numbers 16 (here @ Bible Gateway), two chapters later.  Look at Numbers 16:14 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Dathan and Abiram, complain that Moses and by extension, the Lord, had not followed through on the promise to lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey.  What?  They just rejected that land as unconquerable not two chapters ago?

Isn’t this the normal reaction we have?  We make decisions that have difficult or dire consequences and then we blame God for the result of our choice.

Doesn’t seem logical, does it.  What is true is that we go to great lengths to explain away our sin.  Including blaming others and blaming God.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Cost of Complaint

Numbers 11:1 (here @ Bible Gateway) outlines for us how God views complaints.  Israel was being personally guided by the Lord from Egypt to the land He had chosen for them.  They were not all that grateful.  They complained that the journey was not as easy as they would have liked.
The Cost of Complaint
He responded to their criticism.

The implications seem to be that we are not to complain about adversity.  The adversity we face is intentional.  It has purpose.  God is about molding us into the image of His son and into His instrument to accomplish that for which He prepared us, since the foundation of the world.

James 1:2 - 4 (here @ Bible Gateway) supports this, as do Romans 5:3 – 5 (here @ Bible Gateway), Ephesians 2:10 (here @ Bible Gateway), and Hebrews 12:4 – 13 (here @ Bible Gateway).

I admit that at times I complain.  I do not understand what God is doing, so I complain.  That is when I have to be reminded to trust Him and not what I see or experience.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hope for Epically Short Memories

In Psalm 42:6 (here @ Bible Gateway) the sons of Korah are in despair.  I am not clear on why.  However the context of the Psalm gives some clues.
Hope for Epically Short Memories
The psalmist is in tears day and night, people are denigrating his belief in God, he is not finding the comfort in his personal worship with the Lord as he has in the past.

Ever experienced anything like that?  I have.

What is the cure?  How do we get out of that kind of tailspin?

In our verse, the psalmist gives us a way, remember.  Remember what the Lord has done.  He mentions Mount Hermon.  That is where the Lord met with Israel for the first time and gave them the Law (Psalm 133:3 (here @ Bible Gateway)).  So the psalmist suggests that the way out of despair is to remember what the Lord has done.

Problem.

Israel had a really short memory.  As did most of the people we read about in the text of the Bible including some of our “heroes” of the Bible like David.  So do I.  I forget what He has done.  I forget the grace that He has lavished on me.  I forget.

Judges 2:7, 10 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway), memorializes the short memory of Israel.  One generation after Joshua dies, Israel serves Baal.  They forgot.

Which highlights for us both their and our challenge with despair.  It is hard to remember what God has done for us when we are dependent on our epically short memories.

So what to do?

Write it down.  Record what God is doing in your life.  Record what He is teaching you.  Record what you are learning about Him.  In good times, in bad times, in all times.  In a real sense that is what David did with his psalms.  In a real sense we are reading his journal when we peruse the Psalms he wrote.

If we write down what God has done, what we have learned, we can review it.  When we are troubled, when we need help with despair, we can pick up an old journal and review the grace the Lord has poured out on our lives.

For me this has been a great blessing.  It has been a comfort, an encouragement, and at times a rebuke for my forgetting what He has done in my life.

Full disclosure, it took about three or four iterations of keeping a journal before it became a consistent discipline for me.  However, regardless of how many starts and stops it took me or takes you, it is worth the effort.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Accountability

You have probably heard of accountability groups.  You may be in one.  There is a lot of talk and a lot written on holding each other accountable.
Accountability
You may have heard about or experienced the use of questions in these groups.  Here is a list of several, here are five that I have experienced:
  1. Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
  2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
  3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
  4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
  5. Have you given priority time to your family?
  6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
  7. Have you just lied to me
This idea of accountability has gained a lot of traction in the Church.  One problem, the word “accountable” does not appear anywhere in the text of the Bible as a directive or description of the relationship between individual believers.  Instead the word is used to describe our relationship to God.  Check out:
You will note that in the Bible the idea of accountability in these texts, and they are the only places that the English word “accountable” appears, is toward God not toward man.  By the way these are all the passages in our English Bibles that have any Hebrew or Greek word translated accountable...

So what do we make of this?

The Bible does give us direction on how we are to engage with one another (not an exhaustive list):
The words used in these passages are words like build up, encourage, reprove, rebuke, exhort, teach, correct, and arguably the most important, love one another.  I ran across an article that had a paragraph that seemed spot on:
In The Duty, Owen writes that church members should, of their own accord, “assemble together, to consider one another, to provoke unto love and good works, to stir up the gifts that are in them, yielding and receiving mutual consolation by the fruits of their most holy faith.” During these gatherings, Owen tells believers to warn the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14 (here @ Bible Gateway)), help one another understand the Word of God better (Acts 18:26 (here @ Bible Gateway)), help one another be on guard against the heart-hardening effects of sin (Hebrews 3:13 (here @ Bible Gateway)), gently restore those who have are trapped in sin (Galatians 6:1 (here @ Bible Gateway)), encourage and build up one another in the faith (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20 (here @ Bible Gateway)), and pray for one another (1 John 5:16 (here @ Bible Gateway)). – How John Owen Would Run an Accountability Group.  Links to Bible Gateway added.
It would seem from considering the text of the Bible that possibly the idea of holding one another accountable is a means of attempting to deal with sin by asking questions rather than building up one another in our relationship and dependence on Christ and the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Dealing with the Matrix

You may be following what is happening in the confirmation of the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court.  This is not going to be political, per se.  However, one of the realities that face us as believers is living in the midst of a broken world that is under the domain of a murderer and a liar.  How we react and respond to what we encounter in the midst of that reality becomes either a testimony to the glory of our Lord in and through our lives or else a blight on His name.
Dealing with the Matrix
Different experiences in the Word aligned this morning as I was working through my devotional, quiet time, and then as I turned from that to write this post.

I reviewed a journal entry from April of last year.  Psalm 33:10 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway) was the passage and it aligned perfectly with what the Lord showed me this morning in His Word.

Rather than tell you what I saw, here are the passages that the Lord took me through.  Spend some time looking at them and think through what is going on in your life and how they apply:
If you do work through this, let me know your thoughts.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Core Passages

Typically when I start to write one of these posts, I start by either reviewing past journal entries or by writing on a current Bible study.  After I choose the passage I review what was written in the past eight years to make sure that I have not covered the ground already.  This morning I was following the first practice, reviewing a past journal…
Core Passages
I was going to write on 2 Timothy 3:14 (here @ Bible Gateway), so I checked my files for other posts on 2 Timothy 3 (here @ Bible Gateway).  To suggest there were several, would be an epic understatement.

It took the better part of 30 minutes to scan through all of the posts on 2 Timothy 3 (here @ Bible Gateway).  Many focused on or had in support of the point of the post 2 Timothy 3:14 – 17 (here @ Bible Gateway).

In his work Having A Ministry That Lasts--By Becoming A Bible Centered Leader, Bobby Clinton shares the importance of mastering ones’ core passages and becoming intimately familiar with the rest of the Bible.

The thing that became obvious this morning for me was that 2 Timothy (here @ Bible Gateway) is a core book for what I do.  I was stunned on how much I have written on this book.  I also am aware of how often I refer to the book in conversations with men.

For me this experience validates Clinton’s work, yet again.  I highly recommend that you examine his work for yourself and work toward becoming a Biblically centered leader.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Emphasis on Why

This is an addendum or emphasis on the last post, “Why Engage with the Bible.”
Emphasis on Why
There are a lot of discussions, programs, projects, messages, podcasts, blogs, facebook posts, tweets, and whatever else that suggest that it is important for you to be engaged with the Bible.  My last post here included.

Engagement is more than knowledge about.  It is good to know details about the Bible.  Who wrote what, when it was written, purpose of the segment, and that sort of thing.  It is also good to know the technical stuff, being able to work in Hebrew and or Greek.  It is great to understand theology; all of those –logy words, hamartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc.

But more important, no, most important, in Bible engagement is deepening one’s knowledge of.  Knowledge of the person behind the text.  God chose to reveal Himself in a book and in coming in person to deal with the problems that existed.  That coming is also revealed, to us, in a book.  That book was inspired by Him, 2 Peter 1:20 – 21 (here @ Bible Gateway).

Its purpose is to reveal Him.  His nature, His character, His heart, His passion.  It is for this reason that we should be engaged.  The other knowledge about, is only valuable to the extent that it leads us to knowledge of Him.  Otherwise it is just another empty arcane academic pursuit.

When brought face to face with God, Isaiah was undone.  He essentially was a partaker of the Divine Nature in that encounter.  Based on 2 Peter 1:3 – 4 (here @ Bible Gateway), when we engage with the Bible, we are, as Isaiah was, partaking of the Divine Nature.  Thus, we, as he was, should be shaken to our core.

When you engage with the Word, ask the Lord to reveal Himself to you.  Then fasten your seat-belt.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Why Engage with the Bible

In the midst of a difficult time I read Psalm 31:7 (here @ Bible Gateway).  The last clause, “…You have known the troubles of my soul…” comforted me.  It led me to review Hebrews 4:15 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway).  The message is clear, regardless of what we are going through, the Lord not only knows but in fact has gone through much more than we are or ever will.
Why Engage with the Bible
This is a comfort.  But more than that, it is instructive on how we should be approaching our time in the Bible.  As we engage with His Word, we are not doing so in order to increase our knowledge.  While it is good to know which prophets ministered to either Israel or Judah and it helps to know some Greek or Hebrew, being expert on the prophets or the languages is not really the point.

In John 5:39 – 47 (here @ Bible Gateway), Jesus is confronting those who know the Bible, as it existed then, very well.  In fact they had the first five books memorized.  He informed them in no uncertain terms that they had completely missed the point.

It is not about knowing the content.  It is about knowing Him.  When we come to the Scripture, we are being exposed to God’s nature and character, 2 Peter 1:2 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway).  As we read we should be looking for what the passage tells us about Him.

That was my experience in the passages I mentioned above.  Those passages reminded me of the reality not only of His engagement with me personally, but also His empathy, care, and support in all with which we have to deal as we navigate our journey through this broken world.

If from time to time you are not moved to tears as you face this reality in the Scripture, you may want to spend some time praying through why you are engaged in the Word.  You may want to ask Him to reveal Himself to you through the Scripture.

Psalm 119:18 (here @ Bible Gateway) would be a good thing to pray.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Tears in a Bottle

How do you handle the difficulties of this life?
Tears in a Bottle
When I fly down to MD Anderson, I will use Uber to get to where I am staying or if I need to travel in the city while there.  I have found those trips to be an interesting opportunity to speak of Christ to the drivers.  One of them shared with me that his son was shot and killed while playing a pick-up basketball game.  I asked him how he handled the pain.  That led to a conversation that dealt with faith.

While I have experienced the death of close family members, I have not experienced the murder of a child.  You may have.  The reality of our lives here is that we are living in a broken world that is groaning under the effects of sin, our sin.  Not as categorized by those who champion causes in order to attempt to have man do the “right” thing for the environment or humanitarian issues.  No, it is the result of categorically rejecting the One who created this world and those of us who populate it.

In the midst of this broken reality, by His grace, some have come to trust Him.  However, all who trust Him are still resident in the reality of this sin ravaged world.

As a result, there is still struggle, suffering, persecution, illness, strife…

How do we handle that?

Psalm 56:8 (here @ Bible Gateway), may help.  Reading through this psalm this morning I was stopped by the words David penned.  Consider the import of what he shares there.  The Lord knows my wanderings, he puts my tears in a bottle and categorizes them. 

Think of that.  In the midst of both the suffering that we endure because we live in a broken world, and the consequences of our bad choices, our Creator collects our tears and categorizes them.  He is intimately engaged in our suffering.  He knows specifically what has caused that pain. 

This aligns perfectly with several other passages of Scripture, but two stand out.  Psalm 139:3 (here @ Bible Gateway) tells us that He knows the details of our lives.  1 John 4:7 – 11 (here @ Bible Gateway), reminds us that He loves us so much that He died for us.  He died to relieve the suffering He is cataloging.

When we hurt.  When we are in deep despair.  We can know that our Lord not only knows, but is intimately familiar with what is causing that pain, and further has already acted to relieve it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Intentionality

It is one of the things that I have emphasized here over and over, the Word continues to yield insight even in intimately familiar passages.
Intentionality
Look for a moment at 1 Timothy 4:12 – 16 (here @ Bible Gateway), note there are 8 imperatives, commands Paul gives his protégé:
  • Show yourself
  • Give attention
  • Do not neglect
  • Take Pains
  • Be in
  • Pay close attention
  • Persevere
All but the first are Active voice which denotes continual action.  The exhortation is to be continually functioning in this manner.  Intentional, focused, purposeful, engagement in the task that God has given.  Paul in a real sense gives legs, expansion to Matthew 6:33.

It would be easy to sluff this off as the role of an apostle, but that ignores Paul’s continual call to imitate his life and ministry as well as his consistent exhortation to pass on all that he has taught to the next generation of believers.

Thus, this list, these imperatives, apply to us as well.  We are to be intentional, focused, purposeful, in our engagement with the Lord and with what He has given us to do.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Shocking Source of David’s Greatness

Have you noticed that no matter how many times you have read a passage it is fresh every time?  I cannot count the number of times I have read Psalm 18 (here @ Bible Gateway), but its riches continue to emerge.

There is so much here that it will be impossible to cover it in a few sentences, even though I have written on this Psalm twice before, here and here.

Notice how David describes the Lord, He is David’s:
  • Strength
  • Rock
  • Fortress
  • Deliverer
  • God
  • Rock (again)
  • Refuge
  • Shield
  • Salvation
  • Stronghold
The Lord gave David the shield of His salvation and upholds David with His right hand.

Note also that the Lord equipped David by training his hands so that David could bend a bow of bronze.

This describes a warrior king.  One who was intentionally chosen to lead the people of God.  For the most part, except for some serious lack of judgement, David did that very well.  But it wasn’t really David that gets the credit.  It was the transforming, life renewing, intentional, unmerited work of God in David’s life that made him the man he was.

David was a strong leader, an incredible warrior.  But the overwhelming thing in this Psalm, this time through, is not all of the attributes listed above.  No, the attribute that David claims as the one thing about God that made him a great leader and warrior is not the strength, it is the gentleness of God.

Think about that.  Why would David focus on that aspect of God’s nature and character?  Let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Rich Struggle of Scripture Memory, Part 2

Last post I shared some of my journey in Scripture Memory.  Currently…well…for about the last year, I have been working on memorizing Psalm 119 (here @ Bible Gateway).  John Piper’s message on William Wilberforce was the impetus for this project.
The Rich Struggle of Scripture Memory, Part 2
As I mentioned in the previous post, it is much harder now for me to memorize scripture.  But the exercise is rich.  The effort to repeatedly go through a passage endeavoring to commit it to memory is essentially prolonged meditation on the passage.  In doing so, much more is revealed than I see in simply reading through the passage.

For example, look at the first four verses:
1 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the LORD.
2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.
3 They also do no unrighteousness; They walk in His ways.
4 You have ordained Your precepts, That we should keep them diligently.

Do you notice the repetition?  These words are repeated: way, walk, and the concept of intentional sustained obedience; “with all their heart” and “keep them diligently”.

In Hebrew poetry the second phrase is repeating the first, reinforcing, emphasizing, and clarifying the point.
So in verse 1, a blameless way is to walk in the Law of the Lord.  In verse 3 to “do no unrighteousness” is to “walk in His ways.”  So to walk in the Law of the Lord is to walk in His ways.  The implications of this are staggering.

When we consider the way of someone, we are contemplating how they behave.  How they live their life.  How we observe their character played out in the way they relate to others and to the world around them.

How many times have we said, heard, or thought of someone in trying to deal or explain their behavior with something like, “Oh, that is just the way he is,’’ or “that is just like him.”  It is that person’s “way”, we know what to expect because we have observed a consistency in their behavior.

What these four verses are revealing is that the Law is God’s “way”.  It reflects His character.  It reflects how He behaves.  Thus, if we keep the Law, we are behaving as God does.  We are, as it says in verse 1, blameless.  Why, we are acting, behaving in a manner that is consistent with the nature and character of God.

Big problem…

There is no wiggle room.  We have to do that with all of our heart and keep them diligently.  The testimony of the Bible is that only one person did that, Jesus.

The good news is that through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and immanent return we can be joined into His obedience and delivered from the reality that we do not diligently keep the Law or seek Him with all of our heart.

The other implication is that we can learn much about God by studying His Law.  Because it reveals who He is, His way.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Rich Struggle of Scripture Memory

At the first Christian conference I attended after committing to follow Christ as Lord, I met with a man who was on staff with the ministry and was somewhat older.  He challenged me to begin to memorize Scripture.  He suggested Psalm 27:4 (here @ Bible Gateway) as a place to start.

As soon as the meeting was over, I went to the materials table.  I purchased both blank verse cards and a copy of the Topical Memory System.
The Rich Struggle of Scripture Memory
Soon Scripture memory was part of my everyday discipline.  I finished the TMS, and begin to memorize passages.  Romans 12 (here @ Bible Gateway) was the first chapter I memorized.  Then books.

I found that my time in the Word, both quiet time and Bible study was impacted.  While studying or reading a passage, others that I had memorized came to mind as cross references.  A few years back I was leading an seminar on Bible study in Trinidad and Tobago at a Bible college.  During discussion on a passage that the participants had spent some time studying I suggested several cross references, I was asked how I came up with those parallel passages, I realized it was from memory work and study I had done over the previous thirty some years.

I am not blessed with a photographic memory.  Memorizing Scripture is hard work for me.  It is much harder now than it was when I was younger.  But that difficulty has, for me, a marvelous benefit.  That benefit is that in reviewing the passage, re-reading it over and over in the process of memorizing it, layers of meaning that otherwise would be overlooked are observed.

This happened again this week.  In the next post I will share those observations.  But, it seemed necessary to lay this as a foundation and context.

There is one other thing that seems to be important.  In the fall of 1987, I entered seminary in pursuit of a ThM.  At the time we had three young children, the fourth was born the next year.  I was working 30 – 40 hours a week, part time.  Going to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I committed to not study while the kids were awake.  With few exceptions I was able to do that during the four years it took to finish the degree.

The point is that that under that load, something had to give.  That something was Scripture Memory.  Every minute for that four years seem to be scheduled with either assignments from classes, something at work, or a commitment with my family.

It was a great time.  But, my discipline of Scripture memory has never recovered to the point that it was before that season.

Again, I share that for context.  I trust that it will deepen the understanding of the next post…