Sunday, April 26, 2015

The litmus test of true spirituality

"Jesus and the Woman at the Well" - Tresures of the Bible, Jesus' Ministry
"Jesus and the Woman at the Well" - John 4:5-26
Illustration from Treasures of the Bible - Jesus' Ministry

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 4:1-21

TO CHEW ON: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

In our time when it's fashionable to be "spiritual," it's more important than ever to "test the spirits" as John here tells us to do. The writer of my Bible's study notes on this passage elaborates:

"Believers are not to be so gullible that they indiscriminately accept pronouncements of all prophets who claim to be of God… A spirit is indeed behind every prophet…" - Peter E. Prosser, study notes on 1 John, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1787.

John names the two types of spirits. The prophetic spirit that speaks from the Spirit of God he calls the "spirit of truth" (1 John 4:6), while a false spirit he calls the "spirit of Antichrist" and the "spirit of error" (1 John 4:3,6).

How can we tell which is which? John here also gives us a simple test. He says that spiritual truth is all tied up in Jesus and our reaction to Him. The true spirit, whose message source is the Spirit of God "… confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh…" - 1 John 4:2.

This is more than mere mental assent to the fact that a person named Jesus of Nazareth once lived and was a remarkable person.  More from the study notes:

"The crux of a test is a spirit's acknowledgement or rejection of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God. A confession of Jesus involves more than an admission of His identity (see Matthew 8:28,29; Mark 1:24; 3:11). It is a profession of faith in Him and submission to His sovereignty. … a confession proclaiming the truth that Jesus is the incarnate Christ is of God and testifies to both His full humanity as our Saviour-Redeemer and HIs full deity as Lord and Sovereign King - Ibid (emphasis added).

And so when missionaries come to our door, or when our friends talk to us of the usefulness of their spiritual practices, or we watch documentaries or read books on modern spirituality, we should be on the lookout for the answer to that test question: What do they say and believe about Jesus?


PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this test of spirituality and whether or not particular belief systems and practices are from You. Please sharpen my discernment. 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.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

The supernatural good-news life

T
Paul and the Viper
Paul and the Viper*
ODAY'S SPECIAL:
Mark 16:9-20

TO CHEW ON: " ' And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents, and if they will drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.' " Mark 16:17-18

What an incredible list of predictions Jesus makes here, of signs that will follow those who spread the gospel:

1. They will have power over the demonic realm (Mark 16:17).
Luke recounts an almost humorous incident showing the unique power that Jesus' followers have in this area. When some Jewish exorcists use the name of Jesus without the power of true faith in Him, the demon responds: "Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are you?" Then the possessed man beats up the exorcists - Acts 19:13-16.


2, They will have new powers of communication: " ' … speak with new tongues' " (Mark 16:17).
I understand this promise to involve more than only the glossolalia of the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). It is that for sure, i.e. the power to communicate in languages not learned. But I believe it is also the tongue used in private prayer and self-edification (1 Corinthians 14:2,4, 14-16). And, I would submit, we could also make a case for the new tongue including the tongue of boldness, so evident in the early Christians (Acts 4:31).

3. They will have remarkable protection
(Mark 16:18).
The experience of Paul in the Island of Malta brings Jesus' words to life about protection from snakes (Acts 28:3-6). And to the protection stories from Acts we could add the testimony of Christians experiencing unusual protection through the centuries. In this department, I love the saying attributed to Henry Martyn: "I am immortal until God's work for me to do is done. The Lord reigns" (from Inspirational Quotes).

4. They will have unusual power
to heal (Mark 16:18).
This comes true for the Apostles in Acts as we see them perform numerous healings, sometimes even raising people from the dead (Acts 3:7-11; 5:12-16; 9:3-9, 32-35, 39-42; Acts 14:8-18; 16:18; 20:8-12; 28:8-9).

The question I ask myself is, do these signs still follow the spread of the gospel today? Are these things our experience? Some have developed a hermeneutic which says the signs and wonders seen in Acts were only for that time. However the words we read today are attributed to Jesus. The evangelical church doesn't take His command to " ' preach the gospel to every creature' " as only for the apostolic time. So why do we often wave off the signs that confirm the gospel as meant exclusively for an earlier age?


PRAYER: Dear Lord, please confirm Your reality, power and word with signs and wonders again. Amen.

MORE: Modern prayer for spiritual awakening

Bible teacher Beth Moore has written an impassioned "Intercessory Prayer for Awakening." Read it HERE.

The Feast of St. Mark Evangelist.

Today the church celebrates the Feast of Mark the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel of Mark and today's Bible reading.

This Collect begins the day's liturgy:

 Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

* Illustration of "Paul and the Viper"
Illustration from Volume 10 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published by Francis R. Niglutsch, New York, in 1910. Many of the original paintings were in color, but were published in this book in black and white.

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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.


Friday, April 24, 2015

One Shepherd

"Separating Sheep from Goats"
(Matthew 25:32) from
Treasures of the Bible
"Separating Sheep from Goats"  (Matthew 25:32) from Treasures of the Bible
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:17-31

TO CHEW ON: "I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My Servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd." Ezekiel 34:23


By Ezekiel's time David had been dead for hundreds of years. So what does Ezekiel mean here, speaking about God's servant David being their shepherd?

Bible students interpret "my servant David" non-literally to mean the promised Saviour or Messiah that would descend from David's line (2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Kings 2:45). It was a line God promised would never end (Psalm 89:3-4).

"This is clearly fulfilled in Jesus Christ" writes Roy Edmund Hayden in my Bible's notes on Ezekiel.

How wonderfully Jesus fulfills this prophecy. When we study His life, ministry, and teaching, we see that He is everything the irresponsible shepherds are not:
  • He is compassionate with the helpless - Matthew 9:35.
  • He is a seeking shepherd of both flocks—the Jews and Gentiles - Matthew 15:24; John 10:16.
  • He knows His sheep - John 10:14-15, 27; Matthew 25:32).
  • His sheep know Him and His voice - John 10:3,4, 5, 16, 27.
  • He provides for and protects them - John 10:9,28.
  • He lays down His life for them - John 10:17,18; Matthew 26:31.
  • He is their just judge - Matthew 25:32-46.

Those of us who believe in Jesus all these many centuries later are also part of His flock—a flock made up of peoples from all nations (Ezekiel 34:11-13; John 10:16) and added to over centuries.

Our pastors and leaders are His under-shepherds now (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:24).

And we look forward to a day when the beautiful scene Ezekiel paints, the peace and security (Ezekiel 34:25), the plenty (Ezekiel 34:26,27,29), and the freedom (Ezekiel 34:27,28) will be realized in real time (Revelation 7:16,17).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, thank You for Your shepherding of people over the centuries. Help me to hear Your voice and follow You through my life till the time I see You face to face. 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.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leadership - it's not about me

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Ezekiel 34:1-166

TO CHEW ON: "Thus says the Lord God: 'Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock that they may no longer be food for them'" Ezekiel 34:10

Is God here ranting against the men that are out in the Judean hillsides watching their sheep — actual shepherds? No. This is a diatribe against leaders of people who had failed to do what leaders should do. Looking over verses 1-10 we can discover what some of those failings were:

1. They were concerned primarily about themselves and not the people they led (Ezekiel 34:2).

2. They acted out this self-interest by ravaging the flock. They used their underlings for their own ends (Ezekiel 34:3).

3. They took no responsibility for their flock's health or well-being. They didn't look after its sick or hurt members and didn't go after the ones who went wandering or got lost. The result was a scattered, weak, sickly flock, vulnerable to any danger that came along from weather to wild animals, to wandering (Ezekiel 34:4-6).

4. They were held accountable and lost their jobs (Ezekiel 34:7-10).

This is a good warning to take to heart for those of us who lead in any capacity (in our churches as pastors, teachers, or small group leaders, in society as presidents, committee heads or coaches, in our homes as parents and grandparents). When we turn God's four scolds of Israel's irresponsible leaders into positives, we have a template for our own leadership. Good leadership is:


1. Concerned primarily with the well-being of those who follow.

2. Untainted by motives of personal gain.

3. All about responsibility.
Of course the look of this will be different for the different kinds of shepherding we do. For the spiritual leader of people — say as a small group leader in church — it might involve making sure you have some good spiritual food prepared for your next meeting, listening to your people to discover their hurts and challenges, phoning the ones who are absent, visiting the sick ones in hospital, bringing meals to the home where Mom has just had a baby, getting other healthy members involved in the care of the flock so it doesn't all fall on your shoulders...

4. Expecting to be held accountable. How much better to hear His "Well done, good and faithful servant" than that you've lost your flock and your job because you weren't a good shepherd!


PRAYER: Dear God, please put within me the heart of a good leader/shepherd who thinks of others first before myself. Help me to demonstrate servant leadership whenever I lead. Amen.

MORE: Advice to leaders

Michael Hyatt,  a speaker and author who writes often about leadership this advice to his successor as  CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing in 2011 It is good advice to anyone who is a leader:

1. Your position is a role not your identity.


2. Your position is temporary not permanent.


3. Your position is a privilege not a right.


4. Your position is about faithfulness not achievement.


5. Your position is about them not you.


6. Your position is about stewardship not ownership.


7. Your position will require more than you can provide on your own.

Read all of "Advice to a New CEO (or to any Leader)" to see how he expands on each of these points.
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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, April 22, 2015

Of shepherds and sheep

TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 10:1-18

TO CHEW ON: 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep and am known by my own.'” John 10:11,14

I find few passages in the Bible more comforting than the shepherd and sheep ones. Of those, John 10 where Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd ranks right up there with Psalm 23. Let’s look at this first half of John 10 to see what we can discover about our divine shepherd.

1. Jesus, our shepherd, has a legitimate claim to us (John 10:1-3). The flock’s real shepherd doesn’t need to sneak into the sheepfold to get access to the sheep or convince them to follow him. They are his possession. He can come through the door and relate openly to then. As our spiritual shepherd, Jesus bought the rights to us when He died and paid our ransom. He is our rightful owner. Of course it’s up to us to decide if we want Him to shepherd us, or not.

2. A good shepherd knows his sheep intimately, inside and out, and by name (John 10:3-5). The sheep recognize his voice and trust him enough to follow. This is how well Jesus knows us. He is trustworthy and we can follow Him with confidence.

3. Jesus calls himself the door of the sheep (John 10:7-9) I remember years ago a Sunday School teacher telling how a shepherd would station himself at the door of the sheepfold, place his staff across the entry, and watch/count as each sheep bounded over his staff, into the fold. Describing himself as the door is Jesus’ picturesque way of telling us, we come to God through Him; there is no other way (John 14:6).

4. Jesus has good intentions toward His sheep (John 10:10. He said: 'I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly'[abundantly: perissos = superabundance, excessive, overflowing, surplus over and above, more than enough profuse, over the ordinary, more than sufficient].

5. Jesus is a good shepherd (John 10:11-15) He says that several times, and we get the message: there are bad shepherds. Just before Jesus launched into this teaching, he was talking to the Pharisees. He called them blind leaders (John 9:39-41). Here He describes bad shepherds as hirelings. They lead because it’s their paid job. But when things get tough, they scatter and leave the sheep defenseless. The intention of some false shepherds is to actually steal, kill and destroy the sheep. Jesus is not like that. He has gone to the extent of giving His life for His sheep.

6. The shepherd and sheep share a deep and lasting relationship (John 10:14-15).
“As the Father knew the Son and loved him, so Christ knows his sheep, and has a watchful tender eye upon them. As the Son knew the Father, loved and obeyed Him, so believers know Christ.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Zondervan, 1961, p. 1564.

Is Jesus your shepherd? Do you recognize His voice? Do you obey – knowing that His intentions toward you are only good. Spend some time today thinking of Jesus as your shepherd and what kind of a sheep you are.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, help me to follow you as a sheep follows the shepherd he loves and trusts. Help me to be a good shepherd to the people who look to me for leadership. Amen.

MORE: The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Stuart Townend version)


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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hated

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 3:11-24

TO CHEW ON: "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you." 1 John 3:13

There is within the DNA of the gospel, something that "the world" finds intrinsically offensive. I'm not sure if I can put my finger on it exactly but it seems to have something to do with:

  • Jesus' claims of uniqueness ("'I am the way the truth and the life.'" John 14:6) and Christianity's tone of certainty about Jesus as the only way to God ("Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12).
  • Jesus' certainty about the fate of anyone who doesn't believe in Him (" 'He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.' ” John 3:36)
  • God's authority versus our human dislike of anyone being the boss of us (Satan tapped into that when, in answer to Eve's objection to eating Eden's forbidden fruit, he contradicted God and said " 'You shall not surely die' " - Genesis 3:4,5)
  • The way the gospel cancels out our human efforts to save ourselves ("But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away" - Isaiah 64:6).

Though western societies have long tolerated, even upheld Christian beliefs, a new definition of "tolerance" is chilling the atmosphere toward Christians. Increasingly attempts to defend a lifestyle that corresponds with the Bible's standards are even labeled hate speech (in that such defenses are seen as intolerant of alternate lifestyles). (For an exposé of this new intolerant tolerance, read Albert Mohler's interview with theologian D. A. Carson after the release of Carson's new book The Intolerance of Tolerance.)

To those of us who have grown up at a time and in a place where Christian ideas were mainstream, this is a shock. We're not used to being disliked, ridiculed, made fun of, even hated. But in the grand scheme of history, love of Christianity and Christians is the exception rather than the rule.

What do we do about this? Our gut reaction—my gut reaction—is to pray that things will change, that the climate toward Christians will warm. But that's not what the early Christians did. Look at how they prayed after Peter and John were imprisoned, then hauled before the Jewish rulers and told to shut up or else:

"And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus” Acts 4:29-30 NLT

Do we dare pray the same way?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I love such boldness in the face of persecution. Help me to have the mindset that isn't cowed by criticism and hatred, but takes courage in who You are and what You can do. Please give me New Testament boldness. Amen.

MORE: D. A. Carson says...
"...I want to argue that people have the right to believe or not to believe, to believe what they want, and yet the secular wants our beliefs to be so privatized that they have nothing to say to the public arena. ...But Christians can’t live that way. ... What Christians cannot allow is to keep their voices silent just because they’re Christians" - D. A. Carson, "Tolerance on Trial: A Conversation with D. A. Carson.
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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, April 20, 2015

Superabundance

cup with cross and flowers
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 23:1-6

TO CHEW ON:
"My cup runs over." Psalm 23:5

An overflowing cup—what a delightful image. Of course we know that "cup" here doesn't refer to a literal cup filled to overflowing with liquid. Rather, it's a metaphor for one's life or life situation, or a circumstance and the fact that it runs over is a picture of the superabundance of God's provision.

Other places in the Bible also speak of God giving superabundantly:
  • Moses, describing in a prophetic way how God has and will deal with His chosen people, draws word pictures that help us see this: "He made him ride in the height of the earth … He made him draw honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock" - Deuteronomy 32:13.
  • After enduring a God-permitted test, Job's fortunes were restored double - Job 42:10.
  • The result of repentance, Joel prophesies, will be overflowing harvest - Joel 2:24.
  • Returning to God what is rightfully His (the tithe) opens the "windows of heaven" to "pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it" - Malachi 3:10.
  • Jesus' feeding the crowd that followed Him to a deserted place to be with Him and hear Him speak resulted in twelve baskets of leftovers - Matthew 14:20.
  • Jesus said our generosity will come back to us many times over: "…good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the measure that you use it will be measured back to you" - Luke 6:38.

Several responses come to mind as I ponder these stories and promises of superabundance:

1. When I look at my own life, I see that God has already overflowed it with good things. I need to be more grateful.

2. When I'm in a trial, I can be reassured that it is only for a time. Even it that time lasts till the end of mine on earth, I have an overflowing cup to look forward to in heaven. I need to hang onto hope.

3. Maybe my sense of need tells me I'm not in the right place. When my foolish, wandering sheep personality has taken me away from the fold and the shepherd, I need to repent and return.

4. If I've been hanging onto my possessions, time, even affections with a sense that there won't be enough left if I give too much away, I need to trust God and then let go and be generous, first with God, then with others.

PRAYER: Dear God, I love the picture of a life overflowing with Your blessings. Please help me learn to live in such a generous way that blessing is the obvious consequence. 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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