"Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Tag: Bible Study (Page 1 of 2)

What are Your Plans

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)

I just checked indeed.com and found that there over 1,500 jobs available in my state with the word “planner” in the job title. Many of those offer a six-figure salary. We seem to be obsessed with planning our future time. We buy special designed notebooks specifically to write down our plans. Our cell phones come with a planning calendar app already installed and many of those are linked to a calendar on our work computer.

Inevitably though, our plans often get quickly changed by unexpected circumstances. As much as we’d like to believe we have everything under control and know how our day will play out, truthfully, we have no idea. Our life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

After Paul explains the events that will take place when Jesus returns to take us with Him, he goes on to say that we do not need to concern ourselves with when it will happen but reaffirms the fact that we need to be ready, keeping in mind it will happen. Given that no one knows the day nor hour when Jesus will return, it’s pointless to dwell on it. Instead, we need to simply be ready and continue living each day in faith and love and the steadfast hope of our salvation, edifying and comforting one another.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (Matthew 24:36)

 

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The Beginning of Light

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis 1:3

The Biblical account of creation is a fascinating yet mysterious subject which, because of its mystery, continues to be a target of criticism. It’s not surprising that man would formulate such elaborate descriptions of how our world came into existence without any attribution to a divine being. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14, But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Without Christ in us we simply cannot understand the truth of God’s word. We shouldn’t get upset at unbelievers for claiming that our Bible is nothing more than a fairy tale. Wisdom and understanding is given to us by the Holy Spirit in His perfect timing.

Back to our key verse though, let us reflect on the creation of light. To be clear, the light in verse 3 is not the sun. God created the sun on the fourth day as we see in verses 14-19.

Genesis 1:14-19 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: (15)  And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. (16)  And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (17)  And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, (18)  And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. (19)  And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

So, what was the light created on the first day? A few of our Bible commentaries from the 17th and 18th century give us a bit of insight.

John Gill (1697-1771) compared the light to the pillar of fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness, in effect, Jesus Christ.

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) took a more scientific approach, giving that latent heat is present in all matter and with that heat is potential for light, (basically saying that is when God created the nature of atoms). I’m always a little leery when someone tries to use science to prove God’s word. I think it should be the other way around.

Matthew Henry, (1662-1714), my favorite commentator but also the most difficult to understand sometimes, commits about 3 pages to elaborate on the 1st five verses. He references many verses which refer to Christ as light but also to Christ as the Word.

The first light is God manifesting His holiness and purity in a way that the crown of His creation, mankind, could understand. The entire design for God’s plan for all creation was written on that 1st day. Think about it, we were loved and chosen before the foundation of the world, (Eph. 1:4), and on the first day the earth had no foundation, it was without form and void. Jesus isn’t a creation, He is from everlasting to everlasting, but the Light for our understanding, the Word of the gospel, was manifested in Christ on that first day.

Let’s continue to verse 4, And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

God saw that the light was good, but He doesn’t say that about the darkness. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us when angels were created but I believe the first day is when Lucifer, darkness, is separated from Christ, the Light.


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When the Path Isn’t Clear – Keep Going

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, (2) Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (3) And this will we do, if God permit.
Hebrews 6:1-3 

Every young child while visiting with aunts or uncles or other extended family is inevitably asked the question which he probably doesn’t have a clue as to the real answer. What do you want to be when you grow up? I had my definitive answer sometime around the year 1970. I was going to be a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. Now that decision may have been influenced by the odor of Testor’s plastic model glue while assembling my 1/64th scale model of the F14 Tomcat. I spent many hours in the library reading all I could find about my newly chosen career. But alas all my plans were soon dashed to pieces when I read that one of the requirements for fighter pilots was having 20/20 vision. And so it was that my half blind right eye crushed my dreams and pushed me back into the same position as the rest of the nine year old kids I knew; not a clue.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

Eventually I did settle into a career path, one that I have enjoyed for the most part. Being a bit rebellious in my younger days while choosing the starting point of my path I encountered many twists and turns which probably made the journey more difficult than it needed to be. “Learn by doing” was my philosophy. With each step of the way I learned new things and found ways to use what I had learned from my experiences to boldly accept and conquer new challenges. The difficult experiences quickly gave me opportunities to lead and teach those coming up behind me. While leading and teaching presents its own set of challenges it is also provides the most satisfaction.

Our Christian journey, like our career path, can take many unexpected turns and run into difficulties. Those turns and difficulties, and the times we just don’t know which way to go, can stagnate us. We think God isn’t speaking or giving us direction so we just sit down and wait. At the end of the day how much reward, how much fruit, will be there if we just wait? Nothing. On our workplace job we are usually expected to keep doing what we are told until we are told to do something different. We can’t expect to clock in each morning and expect someone to come retrain us for some unknown task. Our Christian path is no different. “Learn by doing” should be the way of life for every Christian.

In chapter 6 of Hebrews the writer tells us to leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ and go on to perfection. That doesn’t mean abandon or turn from the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. It means we have all we need to serve Christ the moment we receive Him as our Lord and Savior. We cannot sit down to learn all we think we need before we put our hand to the task. The word perfection in verse 1 means equipped for duty. We are given that perfection the day the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. We still need a quiet time each day to read and meditate on God’s Word but waiting cannot be an option. Time is short and the fields are white unto harvest.

Learn by doing. “And this will we do, if God permit.”

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Looking Forward to Our Rest

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.”

Hebrews 4:9 KJV

Webster’s defines rest in several ways. A few of them are freedom from activity or labor, peace of mind or spirit, to be free from anxiety or disturbance, and a rhythmic silence in music.

Hebrews 4:9
Hebrews 4:9

We can see examples of all these definitions in God’s Word. God rested on the seventh day after His six days of work of creation, (Gen. 2:2). We can have peace of mind and be free from anxiety when we “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him”, (Psa. 37:7a). Jesus is resting at the right hand of the His Father, a brief rhythmic quiet intermission between His finished work on the cross and His triumphant return to claim His church bride and destroy the enemy, (Psa. 110:1).

But for us, those who are the people of God, we have a rest that “remaineth”, one to look forward to. How do get to that rest? A work must be done, and energy must be exhausted for a rest to be applicable. It cannot be called rest if no work has been done beforehand.

What is this work? Jesus said “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19). All nations means all countries around the globe, but it also includes our next-door neighbor, our family members, our co-workers and classmates. Nations are made up of people. All nations means ALL people.

How long must we work before we reach our rest? Jesus also said, “And the gospel must first be published among all nations.” (Mar. 13:10). Man’s life is but a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. We must work tirelessly to publish the gospel to all people while we still have breath. Only then will our work be complete, and we may enter into our rest.

Gracious Father, thank you for the promise of rest when my work is complete. Give me strength today for the tasks You have planned for me. In Jesus’ name I humbly pray. Amen.

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God Consoles His People

 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Even during times of punishment, God consoles His people. During this time in Jeremiah, most of Israel was in Babylonian captivity but some were scattered about, driven from the destroyed city of Jerusalem. Israel had refused to listen to God’s pleading for them to repent so their sin had brought God’s punishment.

Jeremiah 29:11
Jeremiah 29:11

In captivity, removed from the destructive sinful society which was the work of their own hands, they finally begin to realize that they need to listen to God. He was their last hope. Now God was able to show His great love and kindness to His chosen people. In verses 5-6 He begins telling them what to do in their captive environment. God tells them to build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children. In other words, be content in the situation God has placed you in and live your life. Then in Jeremiah 29:7 He continues with, “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

The story in the book of Jeremiah describing Israel’s fall, their punishment, and their eventual return to rebuild their home, is given to us so we can understand the nature of God’s character towards His people. Those that belong to God, those that are redeemed through Christ’s blood, will not be allowed to continue in sin. It is in our nature to follow distractions and temptations. But God will simply not allow His people to be destroyed by sin. If we stray too far out of His will into this sinful world, He will punish us in order to bring us back to Him.

Father, thank you today for the assurance that whatever situation or circumstance we find ourselves in, Your desire is that we live with peace in our heart and mind because we do have and expected end. Amen.

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Honoring God Through Adversity – Part 2

Christine Gorman, a noted medical science writer said this in an article in Time Magazine, in the July 28, 2003 edition, Perhaps because their brains are wired differently, dyslexics are often skilled problem solvers, coming at solutions from novel or surprising angles and making conceptual leaps. … It may also be that their early struggle with reading better prepares them for dealing with adversity in a volatile, fast-changing world.”

Just as the dyslexic’s analytic skills are strengthened through his early struggles, the Christian’s faith is strengthened through adversities. God prepares us for the greater trials by teaching us to look to Him in the smaller problems. Can you name one biblical character that did not go through some sort of trial or adversity?

God uses His Word to prepare us for each day and for what lies ahead. The Bible is full of examples of people serving God through various trials. God simply calls us to obedience. Nowhere did God say “do this but wait until it’s safer” or “do this but wait until they stop the persecution” or “do this but wait for a more convenient time.”

Did God tell Moses to go bring His people out of Egypt, but first wait and watch for Pharaoh to be in a good mood? No, of course not. When God gives a commandment He means now–no matter what we have to face to accomplish it.

There are many important reasons to stay steadfast in honoring God through adversity but let us focus on the three primary ones based on different biblical scenarios.

Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

1.) Faithfulness during an adversity prepares us for what lies ahead.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 6 we find the familiar story of Daniel and the lion’s den.Daniel was held captive in Babylon. He no longer had the freedom he enjoyed in Israel. He, no doubt, was in adverse circumstances, through no fault of his own. But Daniel never gave up what God had called him to do. He still prayed three times per day just as he did before he was taken prisoner, and he made no secret of it. God blessed him for his faithfulness by moving him to the highest position in Babylon, just below the king. That didn’t sit too well with the Babylonian princes and governors who were under his authority. They conspired together to trick king Darius into signing a decree which would certainly have Daniel sentenced to death for simply continuing in his faith.

Daniel 6:10
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”

 Continuing to serve through adverse or even dangerous circumstances requires us to spend more time in prayer and meditation in God’s word. We need to allow our Father to draw us into a closer relationship with Him. That’s where we find peace and contentment that only He can give us, and the greater level of faith we need to be a steadfast servant in times of trials. That greater faith gave Daniel the boldness to remain unwavering even in the face of almost certain death. God rewarded Daniel’s persevering faith by keeping the lion’s mouths closed that night. His endurance not only kept him safe that night, but God also used Daniel’s faithfulness to turn the heart of King Darius.

Daniel 6:25-27
“Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

2.)Faithfulness during the trial gives confidence to other Christians around us.

Simply put, we need each other. We need God to watch over us, we need Jesus to save us, we need the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us, but we also need our church body to encourage and build us up. God’s word tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11; “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
What better way is there to encourage one another than by being a steadfast example of faith during our adversities?

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:13-14 “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Young’s Literal Translation says it this way; “more abundantly bold—fearlessly to speak the word”

Paul was in prison when he wrote this, preaching to whoever he came in contact with. He was writing letters to the churches he started, to give them encouragement, instruction, and even admonishment. Wherever he was, he committed himself to be a godly example to those that looked to him for guidance.

One example that I can look back on was a Sunday School teacher I had years ago. He made a powerful impact on me by his faithfulness during a difficult time. His infant grandson had passed away unexpectedly and the funeral was on a Saturday afternoon. It was certainly a heart-breaking circumstance for him and his daughter. He would not have been questioned by anyone in the class if had asked someone to fill in and teach for him the next morning. But no, he was there, and delivered a well prepared lesson as always. My respect for him was greatly multiplied that day. I was challenged that day to strive for a higher level of steadfastness in my own faith.

3.) Faithfulness during the trial will manifest our trust in the sovereignty of God to unbelievers.

This one is the most critical reason to honor God during the adversity.

(Ezekiel 24:1-2) “Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.”

God set up King Nebuchadnezzar to put Jerusalem under siege as a punishment for their rebellion against Him. In verse three, the parable begins of the boiling pot to describe the state of Jerusalem and the impending judgment they were about to receive for their rebellion against God. At one point He compares them to the bloody scum that rises to the top of the boiling pot of meat that was not properly cleaned. The pot is then emptied of the good meat and set back in the fire to burn off the filthy scum, a way of cleansing the pot. The pot here represents the city of Jerusalem and the improperly prepared meat is the rebellious and sinful people.

As God prepares Ezekiel to deliver His message, He also puts him in a trial as well. The key verse in this chapter here though is verse 16 – “Son of man, lo, I am taking from thee the desire of thine eyes by a stroke, and thou dost not mourn, nor weep, nor let thy tear come.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

You may have lost a spouse or someone else very dear to you and know firsthand how difficult it would have been for Ezekiel to keep his emotions hidden. Ezekiel was to be an example to the people by showing his trust in God’s wisdom and sovereignty, no matter the circumstance.

Ezekiel 24:24-27 Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD. (25) Also, thou son of man, shall it not be in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds, their sons and their daughters, (26) That he that escapeth in that day shall come unto thee, to cause thee to hear it with thine ears? (27) In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

If we are always complaining about our circumstances or what is going on in the world then we can’t be a believable witness for Christ. Our job is to manifest the hope we have in Christ, to let our light shine. We make Christ attractive to those around us by staying steadfast in our faith during the adversities and trials that most people would find hopeless. When we commit ourselves to honor God, He will use us to bring hope to a lost and dying world.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16

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The Consecrated Body – Part 3

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“The Eye is Not Satisfied”

On day three of creation I’m sure God had me on His mind while He gathered the waters and called them the seas. He knew how I would stand in awe at the magnificent sight of the waves constantly crashing on the seashore, at the seemingly infinite expanse of water. He was already planning those glorious colors he would use to paint the heavens when the sun would rise over the Atlantic Ocean bringing with it the promise of a new day. Watching the silent gulls as they effortlessly glide just above the water looking for their next meal makes all the worries and troubles of life fade away into nothingness, if only for a little while.

Every time my wife and I plan a vacation or a short getaway my first choice of destination is always the beach. However it doesn’t matter which way we go there are sights of grandeur in all directions. I don’t think anything brings us more physical pleasure than our sight. If God decided to take away all my senses but one I would beg to keep my sight. I’m reminded of Solomon’s words in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, “the eye is not satisfied with seeing”. Although I’ve seen the sunrise thousands of times I still want to see it again.

Spiritual Eyesight

As Jesus walked and taught here on earth He used the analogy of sight and blindness many times as a spiritual sense. Although our physical sight seems important, it is our spiritual sight that allows us to understand the good news of Jesus Christ. In John 9:39 we read “And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” Jesus had just performed the miracle of giving sight to the man who was blind since birth. As with every miracle He performed, Jesus used it to teach those who were present. First He had to satisfy the disciples’ curiosity as to why the man was blind to begin with. Jesus explained that it isn’t necessarily one’s sin that causes our misfortunes, rather that we are made weak so that God may be glorified by His healing power.

Jesus went on to teach the real lesson of the miracle which He directed to the Pharisees in verse 39. Jesus came as Light to expose the darkness of sin and ignorance to those who have a genuine desire for spiritual sight. But to those conceited in their mortal wisdom, thinking themselves to have divine understanding yet lay undue burdens on the common people, these would be blinded and hearts hardened by the true light of Christ. The same Sun softens wax and hardens clay. The same Son softens humble hearts and hardens hearts that are full of pride.

“Therefore I will look unto the LORD”

As Christians we must endure many difficult circumstance and burdens throughout our lives. Although we are never promised physical comfort here in this world we are instructed where to find strength. In Micah 7:7 we read “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.” If we are diligent to focus our eyes on Jesus, through reading His word and in prayer, we will find strength to get through each day. When we keep our eyes focused on Jesus our own troubles seem miniscule, but then we also begin to see not just His face, but what He sees in and around us. Through Jesus’ eyes we see the needs of others around us.

Consecrated Eyes

Christ has consecrated each member of the church, His body, for a particular service, and by definition, if Jesus consecrated us then we as individuals are fitted for a specific holy service. Each member of our body then must likewise be consecrated for a specific purpose. In parts 1 and 2 of this series we learned how the tongue and ears compliment each other in service to our Lord. When we add consecration of our eyes to the body, both our physical and spiritual eyes, we begin to better understand how we are fitted together with each member having a specific purpose. It is only with our eyes that we can follow Christ’s command; “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”
We must look through Jesus’ eyes to see the harvest, listen for the cries out of the darkness, then speak the good news of the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.


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The Consecrated Body – Part 1

What does the word “consecrated” mean? Webster’s defines it this way; “to declare to be sacred or holy : set apart for a sacred purpose”. When God saves us He declares us sacred and holy for His purposes. We are chosen to be His “peculiar people”. (1 Peter 2:9)

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

When we accept Christ as the Saviour of our soul our physical body also then belongs to Him. Jesus purchased us with His blood on the cross. Just as the church is the body of Christ and each member of the church body is consecrated to specific services for Christ, so should each member of our individual bodies be consecrated to the work of the Holy Spirit which lives within us. Over the next five weeks we will look at different parts of our body and see what God says about their specific use.

The Consecrated Tongue

James had much to say about the importance of controlling our tongue in. In chapter three he compares the tongue to a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder, each relatively small parts but when kept under vigilant care are able to turn about the whole body or ship. Likewise when the tongue is carefully guarded and directed by the power of the Holy Spirit it is capable of comforting, encouraging, enlightening, and convincing lost souls to surrender to Christ. James also compares the tongue to a little fire, which when under control gives warmth and comfort. However if left unencumbered to our sinful nature the tongue will kindle a fire that affects the course of nature and way of life for generations to come, fueled only by the forces of hell.

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
(Proverbs 21:23 ESV)
The Christian does well in keeping or guarding his words. Our natural tendency is to speak as quickly as we think. We know that seldom works to our advantage, especially in moments of anger. Our thoughts need to be weighed out, carefully meditated upon, scrutinized to make sure they align with God’s word. Even then we should take counsel of the Holy Spirit to know if our thoughts when turned into words will bring honor to God. Our quietness often brings more honor than volumes of our words. Therefore our daily prayer should be as Psalms 141:3 “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
A wholesome tongue is one that edifies and benefits the hearer. The word wholesome here means healing. The speech of a wholesome or healing tongue gives truths and pardons. It gives instruction and counsel in the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the path of righteousness to the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of all nations. A perverse tongue however brings the opposite, corrupting the hearts of men bringing distress and despair and wounds that will never heal, grieving the spirit of God.

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. (Proverbs 31:26)
Proverbs 31 is the well known description of a virtuous woman, one that fears the Lord. When she speaks it is with discretion and prudence. Her gentle words are given for instruction in the wisdom of godly living. With a heart of grace and mercy her kind words are spoken to exhort and edify those in her care.

By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone. (Proverbs 25:15)
Words spoken in anger and arrogance rarely accomplish anything but bitterness and contempt. A patient man however carefully considers not only his words but the timing of his speech. Having patience to wait for the right opportunity to present our thoughts may persuade the hearer to use sound reasoning in contemplating an idea that may be adverse to his beliefs. Harsh words usually are met strong resistance, a resistance that instinctively protects the bones from harm. Soft words however, find their way through the thinnest crevices to touch the heart of a man, breaking the strongholds of resistance to bring about peaceful resolutions.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (James 1:26)
Probably the most dangerous and certainly unconsecrated use of the tongue is that of the man who seems to be religious, even to the point of believing he is righteous, but then is boastful of his own works. Rather than words of exhortation he inclines to criticize and tear down the character of others in order to appear righteous. He is the Pharisee, confident that his own works and words will bring about his salvation. The Christian can easily discern his godless character but to the unsaved his enticing words only lead them ever closer to hell. All his religion is useless. Jesus warned us that such men would arise and told us to take heed, (reference Mark 13:22).

In John 14:6 we read “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Allow God to consecrate your tongue to tell His truth today.

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Spiritual Maturity

I’ve spent the last few days in Myrtle Beach with a group of senior saints from my church attending the Springtime Jubilee. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and worshiping together with gospel music and preaching. I think my wife and I were the youngest ones on the bus except for our associate pastor and his wife. Our church classifies anyone fifty-five and up as seniors so we qualify by just a few years. We can learn a lot by hanging around with the older church folk. They’ve lived through much in their lifetime and have learned to lean on the only One they can trust whatever the circumstance may be. You will never hear a sweeter sound than the prayers of some of these dear ladies, even if it’s a simple prayer of blessing the food. Sadly I don’t recall ever hearing my grandmother pray. She was a quiet, humble person but she was quick to let anyone know that she trusted in the Lord. Her fruits could be seen in the character of the three godly children she raised.

Like my grandmother I’ve never been very outspoken. You typically won’t find me engaging strangers in conversation. That seemingly minor character trait puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in following Jesus’ command to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations”, so it is something I pray about sometimes. The quiet nature that God gave me does however have it’s advantages. It gives me opportunities to listen and reflect on what I hear. Everyone needs someone to just listen sometimes. Listening attentively is a good way to learn, and learning along with experiences brings about wisdom. I think humans have a natural inclination to strive for knowledge and wisdom. We want to at least appear as if we’re smarter than those around us. I’m amazed at the outrageous sums of money people will spend trying to become wise. If they would only consider God’s promise we find in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” No, God’s not going to print a doctoral certificate with your name on it, but if that’s His plan for your life, He will make a way.

True wisdom from God comes with a second gift, that of discernment. Old King Solomon understood that when he recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” (1:18) Wisdom and discernment gives us just a bit of insight in seeing people as God sees them. Some, like that praying grandmother, fill our heart with joy. But then sadly, there are so many, that when we try to look on them through God’s eyes, brings us brokenheartedness. Although we can’t fully know the condition of someone’s heart, we can have discernment from God’s word. “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)” (Ephesians 5:9) When these fruits are missing we can be almost certain that Christ is not in their heart.

My career started out by working in the machine shop. It was a job shop and the primary customer was the Department of Defense. I loved the work and was always eager to learn. My supervisor took notice of that and I was given increasingly complex parts to make. Some of them made me scratch my head a little but I never refused those opportunities. I made some mistakes, scrapped some valuable parts sometimes, but I didn’t give up. Soon I was moved up into a shop leadership position and eventually into a technical office position. The advancement opportunities were there for anyone but not everyone was willing to step out and take advantage of them. There were a few older men who had worked in that same shop their whole life and were still doing the most basic tasks. They were good workers, ones you could count on being there, and they could see the rewards of putting forth just a little more effort, but they just didn’t want the added responsibility.

There were about one thousand people at the Springtime Jubilee, mostly senior adults. Most had probably been in church since nine months before they were born. This is the Amen crowd, the hand raisers, the shouters. They buy the gospel music CD’s and read the Christian books. Surely these are all mature Christians. But as I mingled in the crowd, not really engaging anyone I didn’t know, not eavesdropping, but just picking up snippets of conversations, I begin to realize that there is indeed a lacking of spiritual maturity within the church body. Amongst the excitement and joyful sounds of praise and exhortations, I also heard bits of ungodly criticism and bitterness. Although we are blessed to have many senior adults who have faithfully served the Lord, those who stepped out, striving to be Christ-like, it appears some have been satisfied to sit on the sideline. Just like those old men in that machine shop who shun any added responsibility, they are missing out on so many heavenly rewards. Like the steward that for fear hid the one talent he was given instead of using it to gain maybe just one more and for his slothfulness received punishment, although the idle Christian will not lose his salvation, he will lose the rewards that God had planned for him.

Are these “sideline Christians” really a problem that the church should address? They are really only hurting themselves right? The answers are definitely yes and definitely no. Being slack in service is a strong indicator that they are slack in reading and studying God’s word, not to mention their prayer life. Failing to personally study the Bible results in having only a weak second hand understanding of the doctrine of the gospel. Satan is always looking for a weakness that he can jump into with both feet to create havoc and division within the church body. Paul addressed this problem in his letter to the church in Corinth.
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1Co 3:1-3)

So how do we address the problem of spiritual immaturity within the church? Do our teachers need more training? Nothing wrong with that but they have the Bible which is sufficient. Do we need to start some new program? Heavens no! Then what?

As I began to find the words to answer this question I just realized that God inspired me to write these thoughts to teach me. I need to trust Him enough to get out of my comfort zone and engage those strangers in conversation to make sure they know Jesus, then to encourage those on the sideline Christians to get in the game. When we continually hear those critical or bitter words we need to recognize that is our prompt to reach out to that person with love and meekness. Encouraging that person to serve along beside you puts them in a position of accountability and takes them on a sure footed journey to spiritual maturity. We can be the difference that allows them to enjoy the eternal rewards God has planned for them.

The topic of Christian maturity first brought these verses to mind from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 3:12-14). As a Christian for the last fifty years now I know that I fall far short in the level of maturity that I should have, still, “I press towards the mark”.

I leave you with a positive note and a couple challenges. At the end of the Springtime Jubilee the pastor gave an invitation. After the final prayer, a dozen hands went up proclaiming they had trusted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Angels were rejoicing in heaven! I challenge you first to pray for God to surround those new believers with mature Christians who won’t let them sit on the sideline. Challenge number two gets personal. Be the one who reaches out, asking those on the sideline to serve along side you. Strike up a conversation with that stranger and tell them what Jesus has done for you. Allow Christ to work through you to disciple the new and sideline Christians. Be Blessed!

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Circle of Trust

My typical day begins at five A.M. I take a few pills which my doctor insists I need in order to stay healthy. I then sit down at my desk to enjoy my life sustaining daily bread from God’s word. After a few chapters and maybe a few notes it’s time to eat a light breakfast and get ready for work. My commute takes about thirty-five minutes and it’s mostly two lane roads with light traffic. During those thirty five minutes of relative quiet I have my morning talk with my Father. My mornings have become a series of routine habits. I like having a routine. Some would say I am a “creature of habit.” I am comfortable with that. It is my nature to dislike change. Any disruption of my routine tends to frustrate me. I’m no different from most people; I want to stay in my comfort zone.

A few weeks ago on my way to work I was praying to my Father as usual. My prayers always begin with praise and gratitude. I’m specific with what I am grateful for. I think it’s important to not just generalize “blessings”. God blesses each of us with so much that we can’t possibly name them all, but I believe it’s important to name a few things that are special to us, especially if it’s an answered prayer. From praise and gratitude I move to asking forgiveness for anything I’ve done wrong. Next is the intercessory portion of my prayer. I had confidence in intercessory prayer because I have seen those answered many times. I have family and loved ones that I name daily to God, for protection, guidance, or comfort as the need may be. But this particular morning the Holy Spirit threw up a giant stop sign, freezing me in the middle of my routine.

I needed to pray for me first.

I don’t know if it was a few seconds or a few minutes, but I couldn’t speak, humbled into silence by the omniscient God. Finally, the realization was prodded into my mind. I needed to pray for me first. I rarely ask anyone to pray for me. Somehow I think it sounds selfish, especially since God has so richly blessed me with good health and provisions for life.

Let me be perfectly clear though, It is NEVER selfish to ask someone to pray for you. We survive by God’s grace alone and we absolutely should be praying for each other. At this particular moment, when God’s Holy Spirit stopped my “routine” prayer, I realized that I needed to make some changes.

My prayer life had always included asking for help in understanding God’s word, that I would glean something from it that would be a help to me in serving Him. I’ve asked for help in recognizing when God puts an opportunity in my path to serve in whatever capacity He chooses. I would be careful to ask that whatever is done by my hand would be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, not by me. But the one thing that’s needed that I wasn’t asking for is that I would be counted as trustworthy by everyone I meet. People must trust you before they will accept anything you say or try to do for them.

We all have acquaintances, family and friends that, even though we may love them dearly, we know we can’t trust them. We can’t change that. What we can change however is to live our life in a manner that makes us known to be trustworthy, especially to those people that we do not trust. Although I’m sure those closest to me, those in my circle of trust, would know me as trustworthy, I realized that I was not making a conscious effort for those that I did not trust to know that. I was doing very little to make those people believe that they could safely confide in me. Without confidence in me how could anyone trust me enough to listen when I tell them about Jesus? That doesn’t sound very Christ-like does it?

When Jesus walked this earth He provided many examples of His trustworthiness. Sadly, His disciples and those close to Him were often the most forgetful of what He could accomplish for them. Nevertheless, the fame of the miracles He performed was widely known. Jesus made an intentional effort to seek out society’s least desirable people of the day in order to show the power of His Father. It was an effort that caused these people, the ones that were least trusted in society, to trust Him fully. Zacchaeus, the distrusted tax collector for example, showed no hesitation when Jesus called him down out of the sycamore tree, and because he trusted Jesus, he and his family were saved. The most moving story of compassion though I believe is that of the Greek woman, a Gentile, who came begging Jesus to cast out the devil that was in her daughter. Jesus’ first answer may seem cruel, but this woman knew she could fully trust Jesus to help her. Jesus was her last hope and because she was able to trust Him her daughter was healed. The compassionate, trustworthy character she saw in Jesus is the character that I need to strive for.

The Christian as an ambassador for Christ should have the same listening ear, the same helpful hand, the same compassionate heart, for the stranger as he does for the closest loved one. That is very difficult if not impossible for us to do on our own. It is simply not in our natural character. We must fully surrender to Christ and allow Him to change our character. Our character should, without any trace of doubt, show us trustworthy to whoever we meet, whether it be a hated tax collector or an outcast foreigner.

And now I humbly ask you to pray for me, that I would be considered trustworthy to anyone that crosses my path, so that I might be trusted to point someone to Jesus, whether a trusted loved one or an unknown stranger.

For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”
(Mark 7:25-30)

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

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