Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Real & Lasting Change

A short while back I heard a pastor speak to a group of people about Heaven and being prepared for it.  In his closing time he spoke about an individual who he believed saw Jesus just prior to their death.  It was truly a powerful moment in his delivery; however, I left with a troubled and saddened heart.  As pastors, we are very privileged to handle the very Word of God and to represent it in all love and truth.  I'm unaware of anywhere in Scripture where believers are told that they will see Christ this side of eternity; It will not be until we see Him in Heaven one day or He returns for His own (according to His Word).  I believe that we can certainly hear God speak from within through His Spirit that He has given us and I even believe that God can choose to use His heavenly host of angels to minister to us on earth.  However, I believe the pastor's comments, although powerful, were Biblically incorrect.  I imagine one could say that I am being too critical; although, God places high value on His word and I want to represent Him and His character in all honesty.

The writer of Hebrews speaks as if the Word of God can stand alone apart from any crafty psychology or tear jerking stories.  Please understand I'm not against illustrations that unfold truth and help us grasp the original meaning.  I'm concerned that we forget that God's Word can do what nothing else can.  The writer says in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  This is POWERFUL and comforting!  As a preacher of the Gospel I believe that my call is to be faithful to the text and help explain what God is saying.  Many of us can encourage others to change but I believe that God is the one who brings real, lasting change.  We can truly trust God's Word to stand alone apart from adding our good psychology about what we might feel about the matter.  God's Word will stand the test of time and not return void; all we are called to do is to be faithful to what it truly says as we communicate it.

I'm blessed to be leading a large group of high school students in a Life Group.  We are beginning to study another book, the book of Acts and have recently studied 1 & 2 Corinthians.  They are developing good study practices for inductive Bible study that will be used for a life-time.  Allow me to recommend some key questions you should consider when studying the Word of God:
  • Who wrote this and to whom was it written?
  • When was it written?
  • What were the issues at hand and why was it written?
  • What was happening at the time that this was written--in the community or church?
  • Where was it written and what is known about the place?
  • What might you be able to find about about the geography / typography?
  • What is happening in the preceding and following chapters?
  • Is it consistent to other Scripture?
  • Does my interpretation make sense as it relates to the surrounding text?
  • How does this apply to me or should it?
I truly want to encourage pastors and lay people who teach the Word of God through Bible studies, in the Sunday school hour, in casual conversation, or from the pulpit, that we represent the Word of God with honesty and integrity.  This brings about the type of real and lasting change that honors Him!
Book Recommendation:   Grasping God's Word:  A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, written by Scott Duvall & Daniel Hayes

Monday, February 17, 2014

When God is Silent

It may sound very shallow to say that there are times in my life that I struggle sensing the love of God;  however,  allow me to be real with you and say that there truly are those times.  I was reminded today of a precious psalm (song) of David that he gave to the choir master to teach to the temple choir or the congregation. Psalm 13 reads: 

1.  How long, O LORD? Will you forget
     me, forever? How long will you hide your face   
     from me?
2.  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have
     sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 
3.  Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of
4.   lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5.   But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 
6.   I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

It would appear that David is being very demanding and disrespectful to God.  However, there was a turning point for David in verses 5-6, in which David comes to his senses and is reminded that God has never stopped loving him.  In fact, David marvels in the character of God's steadfast love.  There are times in life where Satan would desire us to believe that God has turned His back on us and yet we understand (according to God's Word) that His love is always bountiful towards us. God's love is so rich that even though we were deeply entrenched in our sin that He sent His precious son to die for us (Romans 5:8).  Throughout the Psalms it would appear that David, a man after God's own heart, functioned like a yo-yo (being up and down in his emotions).  David was always drawn back to remember the character of God--that God is LOVE.

You may not know the name of Philip Bliss; however, he was a dynamic and very talented song writer and associate of the evangelist D. L. Moody.  He had a remarkable gift for writing gospel hymns, many of which  are still widely used today such as: “Wonderful Words of Life,” “It Is Well With My Soul,” “Hallelujah, What a Savior,” and “Almost Persuaded.” Bliss died at the age of 38 in a train accident and yet many of his hymns live on. They all focus clearly on important biblical truths, but this simple hymn has profound implications, "Jesus Loves Even Me."

 1.   I am go glad that our Father in heav’n tells of His love in the Book He has giv’n; wonderful
       things in the Bible I see—this is the dearest that Jesus loves me.
 2.   Tho I forget Him and wander away, still He doth love me wherever I stray; back to His dear
       loving arms would I flee when I remember that Jesus loves me.
 3.   O if there’s only one song I can sing when in His beauty I see the great King, this shall my
       song in eternity be: “O what a wonder that Jesus loves me!”

Chorus: I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me; I am so glad
             that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me.

Prayer:  Dear God, I thank you for your rich love and that through that love, "For our sake You made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Christ) we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Cor. 5:21

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Well Do You Know Him

There are few husbands who claim to know everything there is to know about their wives--I'm not one of them!!!  Although I don't know my wife as much as I should after 25 years, I  often pride myself on being a pretty good husband to her.  I pride myself on meeting her needs and carrying out the responsibilities that she expects of me.  I have quickly learned what stores to shop at and what restaurants can say "I'm sorry" best.   However, if you were to ask my wife what pleases her most I believe that she would say that she would love for me to slow down, just spend time with her, and to listen to her--no need to comment, just listen.  She would welcome me to know her concerns,  desires, priorities, and life's passions.  She would invite me to enjoy more time with her, share what is on my mind,  and to be more expressive in my emotions to her.  Sitting and enjoying each others company would speak volumes of love to her.

As I was reading today in Jeremiah 9:23-24, I was reminded that God wants us to make "getting to know Him" our life's goal.  It is obvious to me that the better I get to know Him the better I can please Him.  Knowing God is the most meaningful pursuit in life.  Jeremiah expresses the importance of this better than anyone I've seen when he says, "Thus says the Lord, 'Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast of this that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.'"

My personal boasting can come across so subtly when I make use of big, theological words that attempt to make me look smart. It happens when I practice name--dropping.  It comes across when I speak about my service for Him and things I've been able to accomplish.  In essence God is saying, "If you are going to lift yourself up in front of others, do it about knowing Me; if you can't talk about that, then you don't have much to brag about anyhow."  Knowing God is more than just a religious experience.  It is learning of His greatness by spending time with Him.  It is a matter of sharing that greatness with others that they would be drawn to Him (not us) and want to follow Him.  The apostle John said it well, "He must become greater; I must become less" (Jn. 3:30).

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I have a great deal to learn and a long way to go in understanding your desires!  Please be patient with me and grant me a spirit of wisdom to know YOU more!!!