Friday, October 31, 2014

How to live free

TODAY'S SPECIAL: John 8:23-47

TO CHEW ON: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" John 8:31-32

The Bible connects the ability to discern truth with obedience in several places. Paul does it in Romans 1 when he talks about sinful people "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (or wickedness)" (Romans 1:18). Their refusal to acknowledge God as God and glorify Him (which surely includes obedience), results in foolish darkened hearts and lives that are enslaved to physical lusts, passions and outright rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).

In our focus verse today Jesus states the same idea only coming at it positively, maybe because of the sympathetic crowd ("Those Jews who believed Him"):

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 
And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

Let's look closely at Jesus' words to see how He connects obedience, to  knowing truth, to freedom.

"If you abide in My word..." Abide (Meno) means to remain as one, not to become another or different. A cross-reference to this verse in my margin is John 14:23-24: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word." The NIV says "If anyone loves Me he will obey My word" (NIV).

"...You are My disciples indeed..." Disciple (Mathetes) comes from the root "math" which means thought with effort. My Bible defines disciple as "a learner, one who follows both the teaching and the teacher" (Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1307).

"...And you shall know the truth..." Know (Ginosko ) means to perceive, understand, recognize, gain knowledge, realize, come to know. "Ginosko is the knowledge that has inception, a progress and an attainment. It is the recognition of truth by personal experience" (Word Wealth - New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1459).

"...and the truth shall make you free." Made free (Eleuthero) means to make free; set at liberty from the dominion of sin.

What does this mean for you and me? We could say that obedience to God and what He tells us of His will in the Bible is key to us being  disciples and to understanding truth in a way that is only possible once we've actually lived it. Oswald Chambers expresses the connection between obedience and understanding truth so well:

"The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey."
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 27th reading (emphasis added).
A corollary of living this way is that I'm set free from sin being the boss in my life. Ironic, isn't it, that freedom comes through putting oneself under the will of Another.

It sounds great in theory... now to consistently put it into practice!

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live free. Help me to identify where I am still in bondage because of disobedience that keeps me blind to the truth about You and myself. Amen.

MORE: Halloween

Today is Halloween. It is a secular holiday that has sacred roots. It is still listed in the Lectionary as a holy day: Vigil of All Saints.

An All Saints Vigil Liturgy (found on an ecumenical liturgy site) includes a renewal of Baptism. The leader begins that part of the service with the invitation: "I invite you (to stand) to affirm your commitment to Christ and your rejection of all that is evil."

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



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Thursday, October 30, 2014

You pastor's words

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-3:5

TO CHEW ON: "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it, not as the word of men but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe." 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Do we consider the message our pastor preaches each Sunday the actual "word of God" to us? Do we welcome it as Paul's readers did? Or do we hear it with a critical ear and the intention to obey only the comfortable bits?

It might be a good idea to keep Paul's words in mind next Sunday as we listen to our pastor preach.
  • We can ask ourselves is there something we need to hear?
  • If pastor's sermon sounds like a repeat of other messages he's preached, we can examine our lives for disobedience. Maybe the reason God is impressing the same message on our pastor's heart week after week is because we aren't obeying.
  • If we find it hard to concentrate, taking notes may help. We could write down his main points, statements that grab our attention, and Scriptures that he refers to so we can reread them later.
  • We can listen with the goal of taking something practical home with us. We could look for a truth or principle to apply to everyday life or one change we could make.
  • And one more thing: why don't we pray for our pastor throughout the week that he will hear from God for us, and have the freedom and liberty to speak what God impresses on him to preach. Let's not take lightly God's choice and anointing of our pastor as a means of building us up (His body the church).

PRAYER: Dear God, I thank You for my pastor. Please help him to hear from You this week, and to preach with confidence and conviction next Sunday. Amen.

MORE: Understanding your pastor's challenges

For us in the pews, it's easy to think a pastor's job is a piece of cake. After all, doesn't he just have to get his sermon ready each week and preach on Sunday? What can be so hard about that?

However, the reality is quite different. Kevin DeYoung, an author, blogger and pastor writes of the challenges of being a pastor:

"Ask any pastor who really takes his work seriously and he will tell you of the pressures he feels in ministry—people in crisis, people leaving, people coming, people falling through the cracks, people disappointed by the pastor, people disappointing to the pastor. In the midst of this work the pastor is trying to find time for study, prayer, preparation, and family. He’s trying to improve himself, train up new leaders, meet the budget, get to know a few missionaries, champion important program, manage staff, take care of administrative details, provide for deep, accessible worship and preaching, be responsive to new ideas, listen to new concerns, be ready to help when people are in trouble."
Read all of "Pastoral Pressure and Apostolic Anxiety."

May this insight into pastoral life add to our incentive to pray for our church's pastors and leaders.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A literal step of faith

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Joshua 3:1-17

TO CHEW ON: And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” Joshua 3:13

Moses is gone and Joshua is now the leader of the Israelites. His is a daunting job and he knows the challenges all too well for he was with Moses for the duration of the exodus.

His first task is overcoming a literal barrier—the Jordan River. He must somehow get an entire nation from one side to the other. How will he do it?

God's instructions are explicit. The priests carrying the ark are to lead the way. They are to walk into the flood-stage Jordan.

I wonder if there were any skeptics in the crowd that day. Probably. Because remember, almost the entire generation of Israelites had died off during the forty years of wandering. This relatively young crowd had only heard of the crossing of the Red Sea. The ark-carriers themselves had to have faith as they walked into the water when there was as yet no sign that anything unusual would happen.

I like Matthew Henry's reflection on this scene:

"God could have divided the river without the priests, but they could not without him. The priests must herein set a good example to the people, and teach them to do their utmost in the service of God, and trust him for help in time of need." - Matthew Henry's Commentary

The priests walking into the water is an illustration of how faith works for us too. Though God could work without us, He often asks us to step into the fast-flowing waters of our Jordan Rivers in a literal step of faith.

I ask myself, what Jordan River am I facing today? Perhaps it's starting a new project, teaching a class, volunteering in my community, or talking to my friend about Jesus. What about you?

Is God telling us to take a step of faith in regard to it and this way show our confidence in Him to help us do what seems impossible?

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to have the faith to obey Your directions when I face impossible circumstances. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Spirit of antichrist

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 4:1-12

TO CHEW ON: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is from God is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you heard was coming, and now is in the world already." 1 John 4:2-3

Professor Albert Mohler writes of a Rev. Klaas Hendrikse and new developments in the PKN, a mainstream Protestant denomination in the Netherlands:

"Pastor Hendrikse doesn’t believe in life after death, nor even in God as a supernatural being. He told the BBC that he has 'no talent' for believing historic and orthodox doctrines. 'God is not a being at all,' he says, 'but just an experience.'
Furthermore, as Pigott (the BBC reporter who broke this story) reports, 'Mr. Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.'”

According to 1 John 4:2-3, such views are not new. They were present in the early church, persist to this day, and shouldn't confuse us. John labels the spirit from which they come the "spirit of antichrist."

And how can we inoculate ourselves from becoming infected with this spirit? By becoming familiar with God's word and what it says about Jesus. Because beliefs not founded on God's word become something other than Christianity entirely.

Professor Hijme Stoffels of the Free University of Amsterdam called the new approach to Christianity in the Netherlands “somethingism.” The majority of Dutch citizens, he explains, desire some form of spirituality, but not the God of the Bible: “There must be something between heaven and earth, but to call it ‘God’ and even ‘a personal God,’ for the majority of Dutch is a bridge too far” - Hijme Stoffels,  quoted in "Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world."

Let's get to know what the Bible says and cling to it. Or we are apt to find ourselves taken in by this antichrist spirit, which is alive and well all around us.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to learn Your Word so I can detect this antichrist spirit. Help me not to become infected by it. Amen.

MORE: Today is the Feast of St. Simon and Saint Jude

The liturgy for this day begins with the following collect:

"O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Read Dr. Albert Mohler's article "A Laboratory for Christianity's Destruction."
Read Robert Pigott's "Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world."


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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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Monday, October 27, 2014

Who is your audience?

man on stage in front of an audience
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:1-12

TO CHEW ON: " 'But all their works they do to be seen by men.' " Matthew 23:5


In his book The Call, Os Guinness tells a story about the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and his mother. The Carnegies started out in Pittsburgh as a poor family. One day Andrew found his mother weeping in despair. Trying to console her, he said:

"Someday I'll be rich. We'll ride in a fine coach driven by four horses."

"That will do no good over here," his mother snorted, "if no one in Dunfermline (Scotland) can see us" - Os Guinness, The Call, p. 69.

Have you ever felt that way? What good is this accomplishment if  __x___ (my boss, my family, my Facebook friends, my colleagues, the people in my church, my city) don't see it?

Guinness says:
"Only madmen, geniuses, and supreme egoists do things purely for themselves. … Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have" - Ibid, p. 70.

Here Jesus revealed to the crowds and the disciples who the audience of the sanctimonious scribes and Pharisees was: other people ("men"). The irony of this is that they posed their religious observances as done for God. But their actions—exaggerating the religious parts of their clothing (phylacteries and borders), loving the best places at feasts, insisting they be addressed as "Rabbi" demonstrated who they were really trying to impress.

I ask myself, who is my main audience? Whose opinion do I value most? What about you? If it's Jesus, as we say it is, then we will do the things that He values. Several of them are named here:
  • Serve.
  • Humble ourselves.

I love how Guinness concludes this chapter in his book:
"Do you wish to be inner-directed rather than other-directed and truly make one Audience decisive, the Audience of One? Listen to Jesus of Nazareth; answer His call" - Ibid p. 74.


PRAYER: Dear Jesus, how often I get distracted from living first and foremost for You, letting my thirst for the praise and attention of people dictate my actions. Help me to value Your opinion more than any person's so that my life will show that my audience truly is You.  Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's your heart's condition?

sick heart
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 22:34-46

TO CHEW ON: "Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." ' " Matthew 22:37

Here Jesus quotes the great commandment (from Deuteronomy 6:5). The word "heart" is, of course, a metaphor. We don't love God with the literal physical organ that circulates blood through our bodies. So what is Jesus talking about when He refers to the "heart"?

Easton's Bible Dictionary describes the heart: "…the center not only of spiritual activity but of all the operations of human life" - Easton's Bible Dictionary accessed through Biblegateway.com.

Some things the Bible teaches about the human "heart."
  • It is naturally wicked; we're born with sin-diseased hearts (Genesis 8:21).
  • Our evil hearts contaminate our thoughts and words (Matthew 12:34; 15:18).
  • Our hearts must be changed before we can willingly obey God (Ezekiel 36:26).
  • They are changed by repentance, i.e. by turning from our natural sinful tendencies to seek God (Joel 2:12) and accept His way of salvation (Acts 8:36-38).
  • The heart's attitude and direction are under our will. David, when he commissioned Solomon to build the temple, summed up all his detailed instructions with "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God (1 Chronicles 22:19) emphasis added.
  • Our changed hearts are characterized by attitudes like belief (Acts 8:36-38), obedience (Psalm 119:2,34), trust (Proverbs 3:5), and loyalty (2 Chronicles 19:9).

The condition of the human heart hasn't changed since Jesus spoke these words. His command to love God and neighbor wholeheartedly are as impossible to fulfill as they ever were, with unchanged hearts. Wherever we are on this continuum of heart change, let's press forward (with all our hearts) in our lifelong quest of a spiritually healthy heart.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to evaluate my heart's condition by Your word, allowing it and Your Spirit to point out areas of heart disease. Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fruit Test

apple on an apple tree
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 7:15-29

TO CHEW ON:
" 'You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit.' " Matthew 7:16,17

Comparing a life to fruit-bearing plants, Jesus points out how ludicrous it is to expect edible fruit from weeds. And by the fruit, He suggests, one evaluates a life.

Good fruit—what is it?
What is the fruit of a life? Surely Jesus isn't talking about how many physical children we have, or the multitude of things with which we surround ourselves? Most likely not. There is a fruit list in Galatians 5. Paul says there is no law against these Spirit-fruits: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control Galatians 5:22.

Good fruit—how do we bear it?
How do we find it within ourselves to produce such crops? Well, we don't. In John 15 Jesus gives instructions about fruit-bearing as a metaphor where God is the Vine, and individuals are branches. To bear good fruit it is necessary for us individuals to "abide" or live in the Vine. Abiding in the Vine will line up our will with the Vinedresser's so that prayers will be answered, because they are what He wants too. The branch's  abundance will glorify God even as it brings the branch joy.

Fruit-bearing—it's serious business.

In John 15:6 Jesus also alludes to something sobering which He mentions in our passage as well—that non-fruit-bearing branches and plants will eventually be "cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:19, see also Matthew 13:7).

What can fruit-bearing branches expect?

Pruning (John 15:2). But pruning is cutting! Ouch! Indeed, pruning may come in many ways: through circumstances, through people that challenge, irritate, and sand us to smoothness. We may do some pruning ourselves as we cut extraneous, non-fruit-bearing activities out of our lives.

As we go into today, let's reflect on what kind of fruit our life-plant is bearing. If it's not good, let's examine our attachment to the Vine; do we need re-attaching? If we're producing a measly crop, let's ask ourselves what we might do to increase that yield.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to be an abiding branch that allows Your fruit-producing activities of prayer and obedience flow through me even as I submit to Your pruning.  Amen.

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Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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