Friday, April 17, 2015

Deal with anger

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Psalm 4:1-8

TO CHEW ON: "Be angry, and do not sin.
Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still." Psalm 4:4


What makes you angry? People who cut you off in traffic? People who make you wait? Rudeness? Young people? Old people? People who have different beliefs from yours in religion, in social customs, in politics?

There are probably, in each of our lives, dozens of flash points every day—places where we get rubbed against the grain and could easily erupt into anger.

Psalm 4:4 gives us one way to deal with anger [the word used here is ragas which means to tremble, quake, quiver, be agitated, perturbed, disquieted]. It is to meditate [amar: to say, speak, utter, think, command, promise] and be still [damam: be silent, still, struck dumb].

The picture is of someone who is still shaking mad at bedtime. Perhaps it's the psalmist himself. He does seem to be talking to himself here. Instead of lashing out—what he probably feels like doing—he answers his anger, thinks twice, and reasons himself into silence and stillness.

Here are some more places Bible writers speak of dealing with anger. Let's notice the actions words:

"Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret—it only causes harm" - Psalm 37:8.

"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty
And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" - Proverbs 16:32.

"But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath…" Colossians 3:8.

"But then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" - James 1:19.

Do you see the common thread that runs through all these verses? There's a sense that this is something over which we have control. We can rein ourselves in. We don't have to let anger run away with us and take us to that hot speech, door banging, pot throwing place. Why? As David reminds us, anger only causes harm and God has us and our situation in hand: "…put your trust in the Lord. … For You alone, O LORD make me dwell in safety" - Psalm 4:5,8.

PRAYER: Dear God, please heighten my awareness of things that anger me. Help me to rule my spirit with Your Spirit. 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 16, 2015

Is sin just an opinion?

Truth spelled in Scrabble letters
TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 3:1-10

TO CHEW ON: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." 1 John 3:4

More and more our society is losing its connection to moral absolutes. Justin P. McBrayer (a Colorado professor of philosophy) writes recently in the Opinionator column of the New York Times: "What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children it is not true to say that it's wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?"

He goes on to describe his visit to his son's Grade 2 classroom where two definitions hung over the bulletin board:

"Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels or believes."

These two definitions, he points out, leave no room for things that are true even if no once can prove them and things that we believe which can also be proven, like historical facts. He found assignments where kids were asked to categorize statements as facts or opinions. When sorting statements such as  "Copying homework assignments is wrong" and "Cursing in school is inappropriate behaviour" the correct answer was that they were opinions. His conclusion:

"In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths" - reported by Dr. Albert Mohler in "The Briefing 03-20-15," original article"Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts").

This, of course, is a far cry from what the Bible teaches. Today's reading from 1 John 3 repeats the word "sin" in various forms ten times. Sin, by its very definition, assumes that moral facts (truths) exist:

[Sin - hamartia: to miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to wander from the law of Gd; violate God's law.]

What is sin, according to the Bible?
  • The verse we're focusing on defines sin as lawlessness or rebellion against God's law - 1 John 3:4.
  • Unrestrained talk and foolishness are both called sin - Proverbs 10:19; 24:9.
  • Contempt for others is sin - Proverbs 14:21.
  • Whatever is not done from faith is sin - Romans 14:23.
  • Failing to do something good when we have the ability/opportunity to do it is sin - James 4:17.
  • All unrighteousness is sin - 1 John 5:17.

Though governing our lives by these standards may put us increasingly out of step with a world that insists God's standards are mere opinions, I'd rather find myself in the company that John describes at the beginning of the chapter: "called children of God," "like Him," full of the "hope" of seeing Him. As a result I need to line up my life with His standards of purity (1 John 3:1-3) no matter what others think of them.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me grow in my sensitivity and abhorrence to the things You consider sin and to live for the day I see 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.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guards against deception

Reading a letter - Treasures of the Bible (Early Church)
Reading a letter - Treasures of the Bible (Early Church)

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:18-29

TO CHEW ON: "These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you." 1 John 2:26

Though no author name is given, scholars believe the book of 1 John was written John, Jesus' disciple. It was written to the churches around Ephesus where he spent his latter years. One of his main concerns in this letter was to warn about false teachers and error. The specific error that threatened the church at this time was Gnosticism.

Gnosticism was the belief that spirit was good and matter was evil. A corollary of this belief was that a true god would never appear in a body made of evil matter. As a result believers in Gnosticism denied Jesus' incarnation insisting that His body was only apparent. And if He had no real body, the resurrection was also meaningless.

As we read 1 John with that in mind, we can see how from the very beginning, John tries to counteract these false teachings. Referring to Jesus, he begins:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled concerning the Word of Life" - 1 John 1:1 (emphasis added).

In other words, I was with Jesus and He was indeed real!

In our reading today John names two things these early Christians can do to keep from being deceived by heretical teaches:

1. Listen to the teachings of Jesus genuine apostles - 1 John 2:24.
These were people like Jesus' twelve disciples who had been taught directly by Jesus, had seen His miracles, and had heard Him refute the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. They were the ones who were present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on each one, imparting boldness and insight. John confidently says to those he and the other apostles have taught: "Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning" - 1 John 2:24.

2. Open themselves to the anointed teaching and understanding imparted by the Holy Spirit - 1 John 2:27.*

How / When / Why does the Holy Spirit teach us?
  •  His teaching is part of our daily provision. Nehemiah, when explaining Israel's history to Jerusalem's returned exiles juxtaposes the instruction of the Spirit with God supplying daily manna and water - Nehemiah 9:20.
  •  The Spirit will teach us what to say when we're in trouble for our faith in Jesus - Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12.
  •  He will teach and bring to mind "all things" about Jesus - John 14:26.
  •  He will help us as we study the Bible "... comparing spiritual things with spiritual" - 1 Corinthians 2:13,  or as the Amplified translates it: "... combining and interpreting spiritual truth with spiritual language..." 1 Corinthians 2:13 AMP.  In this area, I believe, the Holy Spirit teaches us to spot false doctrines and religious teaching that contradicts the Bible, i.e. avoid deception. 
  •  The Holy Spirit's teaching is heard by those whose ears are tuned to hear Him - Revelation 2:7.

I believe John's two guards against deception—becoming familiar with the teaching of the apostles as it is recorded in God's word and opening ourselves to being taught by the Holy Spirit—are still relevant to us today.

In the God's word department, think about the advantages we have over these early Christians. They had only parts of the apostles' eye witness accounts through personal contact and writing. We have the entire New Testament (in many versions and translations).

In the area of being taught by the Holy Spirit, let's get into the habit of listening for that still small voice that brings daily encouragement (like manna and water), that helps us remember Bible verses and songs, that gives us words to speak in discussions about our faith, that helps us see the connections in God's story, and that alerts us to teaching that is false.

PRAYER: Dear Holy Spirit thank You for the Bible and the Your teaching. Help me to consistently tune my ears to Your voice. Amen.

*About John's statement "… you do not need that anyone teach you…" the writer of my Bible's study notes explains:
"To receive spiritual knowledge under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to know truth in a way that human instruction cannot provide. The text is not an argument against the ministry of teaching (Romans 12;7; Ephesians 4:1) but an emphasis that only the Holy Spirit is able to bring revelation to the human heart (Ephesians 1:17,18)" Peter E. Prosser, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible" p. 1786.


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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 AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Growth stages

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1 John 2:3-17

TO CHEW ON: "I write to you fathers because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you young men because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you children because you have known the Father." 1 John 2:13

In the middle of some heavy teaching about how important it is to love each other and how when you hate someone you're living in darkness, John interjects this little section that seems to say, "And guess what folks. This is for all of you!"

The parenthesis section of verses 12-14 give us some great little insights into the different stages of the Christian life.

Little children:
Pick up the excitement of the new believer in John's word.
  • It's excitement over sins forgiven: "I write to you little children because your sins are forgiven."
  • It's excitement about a new relationship: "I write to you little children because you have known the Father."
When, in another place, John scolds a church for having left their "first love," I think we can rightly assume he's talking about this stage. It's the stage of having a crush on God/Jesus—only it's much more profound and lasting than human infatuation.

Young men/women:
A sidebar article in my Bible describes this stage:
"But as we feed on the milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2) we see that there is more to salvation than the forgiveness of sins. We grow beyond our infancy into young adult lives of challenge and victory as people who live daily by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7)" - Kenneth Ulmer,  in "Growth In Stages," New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1785.


Father/mothers:
This is the stage of the long-term settled relationship. These folks are so tight with God, have been through so much with Him that John says, simply, they know Him.

Know (ginosko) means:
1] To learn to know.
2] to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of.
3] Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse.

In other words, it's knowing that encompasses all stages from introduction to the deepest intimacy. The relationship only gets richer, more secure, more satisfying!

I ask, which one of these stages am I in? (Though I'm thinking, there is a little bit of each stage in my relationship with God.) What about you?

Another good question to ask is, are we making progress to new levels of growth?

PRAYER: Dear Father God, thank You for our relationship that lasts a lifetime. Help me, even today, to grow stronger and bigger and more mature in 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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Monday, April 13, 2015

A bold prayer

The Holy Spirit and the Early Church - Artist unknown
The Holy Spirit and the Early Church - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:23-37

TO CHEW ON: "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." Acts 4:31

The early church had just suffered its first setback. After healing the lame man at the temple gate, Peter had preached Jesus to the receptive crowd and many had believed in Him. This greatly bothered the Jewish rulers, who thought that with the crucifixion, they would be done with this Jesus troublemaker.

The Sadducees, priests and temple captain arrested Peter and John, kept them in jail overnight and the next day brought them before the Sanhedrin. There the rulers, elders, and scribes, along with the High Priest, grilled Peter and John, commanded them to stop teaching in Jesus' name or else, and let them go.

They returned to their friends and reported what happened. However, the reaction of the early church is probably not what we would expect. Let's listen to their voices raised in prayer to learn how a Spirit-filled church prays in the face of opposition:

1. They begin with praise—focusing on God's greatness - Acts 4:24.

2. They remind themselves, and God, of His word and promises by quoting scripture - Acts 4:25,26.

3. They speak their agreement with God's will and His sovereign purposes: "… to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done" - Acts 4:27-28.

4. They request, not that the persecution will stop or that the persecutors will be silenced (like I would) but that they will face these threats with boldness.

5. They pray for more healings, signs, and wonders to prove Jesus' power and reality.

The result of their prayer: "… the place where they were assembled was shaken  (literally, I wonder, in an earthquake-type event?) and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

[Boldness - parrhesia  "Outspokenness, unusual utterance, freedom of speech, with frankness, candour, cheerful courage, and the opposite of cowardice, timidity or fear. Here it denotes a divine enablement that comes to ordinary and unprofessional people exhibiting spiritual power and authority … Parrhesia is not a human quality but a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit" - Dick Mills, Word Wealth, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1497.]

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I need this boldness not only when I face opposition, but for everyday life. Please fill me with Your Spirit in this way. 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.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Holy Boldness

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Acts 4:1-22

The Boldness of Peter and John - Artist unknown
TO CHEW ON: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized they had been with Jesus." - Acts 4:13

What a contrast these men are to the picture of the disciples huddled behind closed doors "… for fear of the Jews" that John describes from a few weeks earlier (John 20:19). Their boldness is evident all over the place in our reading:
  • They teach this new thing—that in Jesus there is resurrection from the dead—without qualification or apology - Acts 4:2.
  • When arrested Peter answers boldly, "filled with the Holy Spirit" - Acts 4:8.
  • The rulers put the pieces together: the disciples' uncharacteristic boldness + their uneducated state = amazing. But then an "aha" moment. Doesn't this remind them of someone? "They realized they had been with Jesus"—whose teaching was also characterized by boldness (Matthew 7:29).  
  • Even the rulers' threats and ultimatums have no effect - Acts 4:19,20.

A brief look at others who show holy boldness in the Bible helps us learn more about such God-given confidence:
  • It comes as a result of following convictions and leaving the fallout in God's hands, as Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego discover - Daniel 3:16.
  • It comes to Joseph of Arimathea when the situation is desperate and unless someone steps up, this friend and teacher will have no respectful burial at all - Mark 15:43.
  • The Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit on all believers is a watershed moment in the story of holy boldness - Acts 2:1-42.
  • The disciples get a new dose as a result of prayer - Acts 4:31.
  • It makes new believer Paul careless about his very life and well-being - Acts 9:29.
  • Later, in Ephesus,  it causes him to minister boldly, persuasively and persistently. When opposition to his meetings arises, he doesn't quit but moves them from the synagogue to a lecture hall and continues to preach his controversial message for two more years - Acts 19:8-10.
  • When he is in Rome, he keeps witnessing about and explaining the gospel despite his  chains (Acts 28:20,31).
  • Paul says that one of the wellsprings of his boldness is the realization that the message of the gospel isn't his project and spreading it isn't from his own initiative but it is a message that God Himself has entrusted to him - 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4.

Are you happy with your boldness quotient? I know I'm not happy with mine. These Bible examples of holy boldness give us much to consider and pray about as we go before God to seek His insights on why there is so much timidity in our lives.

PRAYER: Dear God, I know I need more holy boldness. Please help me understand the roots of my timidity and deal with them. 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 11, 2015

Believe

Doubting Thomas - Artist unknown
Doubting Thomas - Artist unknown
TODAY’S SPECIAL: John 20:19-31

TO CHEW ON: “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.’” John 20:27


Skeptics - we all have them in our lives. These are people whose response to our incredible good news is a sarcastic, “Yeah, right.” People whose questioning attitude leads us more gullible types to parts of the issue we hadn’t thought of or cared to face: “Are you sure they’re legit? So how much time is this going to take? And they’re going to pay you what?”

I can just see Thomas after hearing the account of the Emmaus disciples, his voice high with incredulity, “And you believed it was Jesus just because of the way He looked when He prayed?” Here he responds to the report of a Jesus sighting with “Unless I see the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side and touch them, I will not believe.”

Belief is an interesting thing, in that built into its very definition is faith.
1. To accept something as true or real.
2. To credit with veracity.
3. To accept the truth, existence, worth etc. of something.
4. To have confidence or place one’s trust in something.

Thomas wanted a very tiny leap of faith. He wanted very little space between what his senses assured him was true and his belief system. Jesus complied and appeared to the disciples when Thomas was there. He invited Thomas to assure himself of His identity with his own eyes and hands. In His invitation, Jesus also chided him, 'Do not be unbelieving, but believing.'It’s as if He was saying, “Even with this proof you will need some measure of faith. It is your choice to believe.”

All of us, whether people of religious faith or not base our lives on beliefs. All of us have to some extent insisted on a measure of touching and seeing before we accept something as true. If we have chosen to believe the God of the Bible, whether we’ve seen Him at work close range or second-hand, the challenge to us remains'Do not be unbelieving, but believing.' It’s a matter of informed and deliberate choice. In what or whom have you chosen to believe?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I believe in You – in Your word, the Bible, in Your death and resurrection for me, and the hope of a future with You. Amen.

MORE: Charles Price in his television program “Living Truth” gave a 45-minute lecture on Thomas and doubt based on this very incident. The You-Tube below is a teaser for that talk. Below that are instructions on how to get the entire talk as a transcript.

Struggling With Doubt That Leads To Life In Jesus Christ - Charles Price Truth Bytes



Download a transcript of Charles' Price's entire message on doubting Thomas HERE (pdf file).

The Living Truth website also offers the possibility of selecting weekly telecasts to watch online HERE.


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