Archive | October, 2013

When He Hears Us

October 31, 2013

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I’ve heard Christians lift the last bit of James 4:2, “you have not because you ask not”, for use as a reminder to pray. I’m not so sure that’s what James meant there in the middle of warning the people against unruly passions and desires.

It probably has more to do with the fact that the tendency to become worldly extinguishes the desire to pray. It’s even more likely God has quit listening anyway. The way people wind up on that path is they…

  • want more and more
  • become overly proud
  • covet things they didn’t even know they wanted

Sometimes there might be prayer, but it is a vain attempt because the heart isn’t right. (James 4:3)

That’s not to say one can get in the right state and get a positive answer to every prayer. We have to remember that “No” is an answer too. The Bible has a number of hints on how to get God to hear our prayers:file000834482034

  • He hears the cry of righteousness (Psalm 34:15)
  • He hears the call of truth (Psalm 145:18)
  • He hears those who are humbled (Luke 18:14)
  • He hears those speaking in the Lord’s name (John 14:13)
  • He hears those who believe in what they ask (Mark 11:24)
  • He hears those asking according to his will (1 John 5:14)

The common denominator of all of these is that they require us to quit our friendship with the world. The more we wish for and put effort into worldly pleasures, the farther we remove ourselves from God. James compares those who do that to adulterers. (James 4:4)

So draw near to God. (James 4:8a)

The way Christ put it, we need to be in a continuous effort of seeking, asking and knocking if we expect the Lord to hear us. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Daily Bible reading for October 31

Psalm 91
1 Kings 22:41-53
Zechariah 4
James 4:1-10

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Why We Are Bible Teachers

October 30, 2013

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Previously we considered the great responsibility of Bible teachers and the powerful position they are in. Depending on their words, they can set the course of another person’s salvation.

Although James 3:1 starts the chapter with a warning to teachers, James 3:18 ends it with the wonderful result of a Bible teachers work: “a harvest of righteousness sown in peace.” Many of us who were raised in the church can remember our Sunday school teachers. I can even remember where I was when I learned some of my Old Testament History: the walls of Jericho, Samson and Delilah, David and Goliath ….apple book

It is the work of those teachers that helped get me where I am now.

It is very challenging to be a teacher, but the greatest challenge may be maintaining a proper attitude. A combination of things from the mood of the class to the ultimate goals of the teacher have an impact on the students. If you read and study James 3:13-18, you see exactly what I mean.

Wisdom born from jealousy and ambition leads down the false path. James spent a lot of time in chapter 3 showing us how powerful the tongue is. Misusing it bears the fruit of disorder and other vile things.

Wisdom born from meekness is “from above” and is demonstrated in good works. Those works look like the seven or eight things listed in James 3:17. Topping that list is purity and peace. Jesus said that the peacemakers will be called the sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

That, fellow Bible teachers, is why we do it. Despite the warning of stricter judgment, teachers of God’s word are in the highest office offered in this lifetime – they are the peacemakers and therefore the candidates to be God’s children! The next time you have the opportunity to teach a Bible class, take it on knowing the church depends on your work.

Daily Bible reading for October 30

Psalm 90
1 Kings 22:1-40
Zechariah 3
James 3:13-18

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The Teacher’s Words

October 29, 2013

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How do we make sense out of James saying that not many should be teachers (James 3:1) and Paul telling everyone to be teachers? (2 Timothy 2:2)apple book

First, since James 3 is all about the tongue and its power, it goes to follow that teachers are going to wield a great deal of influence. As a result, the Bible teacher is going to be judged with some extra scrutiny. (James 3:1b) This is not meant to be a determent from teaching, but a caution to be ready to teach sound doctrine.

Second, being a teacher might have been one of the ways church members used to gain honor. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, we see that teachers were ranked third on the list before miracles and right after prophets. In the worship style of the first century (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) A number of people might stand up to talk and teach. Some might have tried to take on the honor of teaching when they were not ready.

Since there are no more apostles, prophets or miracles, we are left with teachers of the word. It is an office that needs to be taken on with great care and reverence. Being a teacher isn’t always right for everyone at a given time, but it is an honor and a requirement that we should all seek.

Teachers: Strive always to use right words and wise warnings (Proverbs 25:11-12)

Daily Bible reading for October 29

Psalm 89
1 Kings 21
Zechariah 1:18-2:13
James 3:1-12

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The Man in the Mirror

October 28, 2013

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I don’t know whether or not it is officially a cliché, but I occasionally hear someone wonder aloud if another person has a mirror in their house. Of course, they are referring to the way the person is dressed, or the way their hair looks.

James says the one who stares deeply into the perfect law and acts on it it will be blessed.

The last time you looked in the mirror and saw that your hair was a mess, did you just shrug and walk away?

Why not?

In James 1:22-24, this is the exact comparison James is making about those who hear the word, but keep doing something else. How many folks are walking around out there with Spiritual bed-head? How many are actively deceiving themselves out of salvation? (James 1:22)

The solution is to keep looking into the word. Just like we wouldn’t turn away from the mirror before combing our hair, we cannot turn away from the word without correcting what we see about ourselves. (James 1:25)

What do you see in the mirror?

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Obedience of Faith

October 25, 2013

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Romans ends the same way it started – the description of faith as something to be obeyed. (Romans 1:5, 16:26) Almost like bookends, Paul defines the faith he says is needed to get salvation.

I wonder if the convenient chapter headings make it difficult to see these verses. In my Bible, Romans 1:5 is in a section called Greeting and Romans 16:26 is  in a section called Doxology. While these handy subheadings are great for helping us find stuff in the Bible, they are not part of the Bible and should not be trusted as if they are.

Since these are essentially sections called “hello” and “goodbye,” it seems like it is ok to skim them. Those who do miss the two verses describing the faith needed for salvation. Take a look at Romans 1:5:

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations

This verse is chock full of information:

  • The Gospel is from the Christ (The “through whom” is continued from v4)
  • An apostle empowered to preach it is delivering it
  • The requirement of faith in Jesus
  • Obedience, the consequence of faith
  • The gospel is for all nations

Absolute, unwavering faith is required for salvation. We see Paul discuss it throughout the book of Romans (and his other letters for that matter.) The faith of Jesus Christ is a lot more than just making a statement of belief – it requires action. It requires response. It requires obedience. To get a sense of the extent we might have to go, take a look at the people in Hebrews 11. Now answer this: What if one of those people said to God, “I believe you can, but I’m not going to do that”?

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Christian Duty

October 24, 2013

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I have mentioned previously a brief outline of Romans. Since Paul seemed satisfied with the Roman church, the letter to Rome seems to be a comprehensive study of the foundation of Christianity for the Gentiles. (Romans 15:14-15) The book is laid out so we can see the Plan of Salvation at work:

  • We sin (Romans 3:23)
  • We need salvation (Romans 1:18-32, 2:1-3:20)
  • Christ made it possible (Romans 3:21-8:39)
  • Through obedient faith we join his body (Romans 6:3-4, 11, 17-18, 23, 12:4-5)
  • Through our gratitude we serve him (Romans 12-15)

When Paul talks about justification through faith, he never even once hinted that it was done through some sort of “faith only” event that cannot be rescinded. He laid out plainly that we have the duty to serve continuously. Romans 12-15 lists those duties out for us as a guide to helping God maintain a healthy church. We have a duty to:

  • God (Romans 12:2)
  • ourselves (Romans 12:3)
  • the church (Romans 12:4-8)
  • other Christians (Romans 12:9-13)
  • even our enemies (Romans 12:14-21)
  • the government (Romans 13:1-7)
  • our neighbor (Romans 13:8-14)
  • weaker brethren (Romans 14:1-15:13)

Our baptism for the remission of our sin (Act 2:38) is only the first step – the step where the old man is buried with Christ. (Romans 6:3-4) No matter what this earthly life throws at us, we have to remain faithful and diligent in his service. (Revelation 2:10) Christianity is a lot of hard work – it is no wonder that Jesus said to count the cost of following him!

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Looking After Others

October 23, 2013

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Previously, we took a look at Paul’s caution against making unrighteous judgment against our brothers and sisters in Christ. Romans 14 addresses how we are to treat each other within the church, including how we judge and whether we cause another to stumble. Romans 15:1-7 continues that reasoning addressing the responsibility of the strong for the weak.

The Apostle Paul  - Bartolomeo Montagna (1450–1523)

The Apostle Paul – Bartolomeo Montagna (1450–1523)

Here’s a summary for dealing with minor issues of disagreement as Paul laid it out:

  • Be careful how quickly you judge – Romans 14:1-12
  • Be careful not to cause one to stumble – Romans 14:13-22
  • Help others bear their failings – Romans 15:1-7

Keep in mind that there is a limit to how much a weak brother is allowed to influence our actions. We never take it to the extent that we fail to serve Christ properly. Ultimately, we cannot please men and serve Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

So how far do we go? We go as far as we can, as long as it is building up the weak brother. (Romans 15:2) The point when he is no longer growing is the same point we being damaging the body of Christ. It is a judgment call, and coincidentally, more proof that there is no prohibition against righteous judgment. (John 7:24)

God’s master plan includes a body of followers, united in the same beliefs, obeying the same gospel. This is his gift to us so that we can join him some day. (Ephesians 4:1-7) Our responsibility right now is to nurture that gift.

Daily Bible reading for October 23

Psalm 83
1 Kings 15:25-16:34
Ezekiel 46
Romans 15:1-13

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Getting Ourselves Right

October 22, 2013

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In Romans 14, Paul takes a look at a number of issues that must have been causing brothers in Christ to disagree and perhaps pass some unrighteous judgment against each other. It even looks like Paul addresses some of the stricter folks as the weak ones! For as many years as I have been a member of the Lord’s church, I have noticed one thing: You can’t get 100 people to completely agree on every subject.

As I try to get a sense of what Paul means in Romans 14, one verse in particular jumps out at me: Romans 14:10

… we will all stand before the judgment seat of God

This has a lot in common with Jesus’ Matthew 7 teaching on judging others. His warning about the way we are (or are not) to judge people leads into a discussion of “removing the log out of our own eye first.” (Matthew 7:3-5) So … contrary to popular belief, the last word on judging others doesn’t end with Matthew 7:1. Paul says as much after quotes Isaiah (Romans 14:11):

…each of us will give an account of himself to God

The warning is to not get so wrapped up in what other people are doing and forget to look at ourselves.

In any group of Christians, there are experienced one, new ones, weak ones, strong ones. There will be disagreements that do not have to result in taking sides or back biting or gossiping. We are each to get ourselves right, keep studying and learning, and try to help each other – just as strong families should.

Daily Bible reading for October 22

Psalm 82
1 Kings 14:21-15:24
Ezekiel 45
Romans 14

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Love Your Neighbor

October 21, 2013

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It is difficult to commit a sin that doesn’t hurt someone. Even the little sin we justify by saying it is only hurting ourselves will at some point effect another:

  • Missing church? – You have deprived me of our fellowship
  • Going off your diet? – You might deprive us of your earthly presence too soon
  • Cheated on your taxes? – Someone will likely be deprived of some program or grant

Here’s how to make it easier to avoid these kinds of sins: We have to love others more. Paul reminds us of that in Romans 13:8-10. He lists off a few of “the big sins” as ones that we would never commit against a loved one, but the idea trickles all the way down to the “small” secret sins.

The Good Samaritan - Rembrandt - 1630

The Good Samaritan – Rembrandt – 1630

Loving everyone is tough. There are many that do a poor job of making themselves lovable, but we have to try and work through that. When we love someone, we wouldn’t even think of sinning against them. This is the point Paul s trying to drive home in Romans 13:9 – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – even when you don’t think you can for those that “don’t deserve it.”

Who else said that? Jesus not only said those exact words in Matthew 22:39, but he said something else that was even more extraordinary – He referred this commandment to the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37) as being just like it!

To love your neighbor is loving God

As I leave you to consider this, I hope you will take a look at The Parable of the Good Samaritan for some insight into just what Jesus had in mind when he taught about everyone to love your neighbor.

Daily Bible reading for October 21

Psalm 81
1 Kings 14:1-20
Ezekiel 44
Romans 13

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Gaining Wisdom

October 18, 2013

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It is better to get wisdom than gold,
and to choose understanding rather than silver! – Proverbs 16:16 NCV

I am looking forward to another Biblepalooza tonight. When I think about the value we have gotten from doing these this year, I think about how highly Solomon placed wisdom in his priorities. Followed up by God rewarding him so richly for wanting wisdom above all else, we can understand how important God thinks it is.

Imagine how different the world would be if everyone dedicated 25% of their entertainment time to learning something.

What if we turned off the computers and televisions for 90 minutes andBibleStudy

  • read from the Bible?
  • had a deep conversation with someone smarter than ourselves?
  • attended a class or lecture?
  • read a non-fiction book?

These are the kind of things that increase not only what we know, but how well we can absorb new knowledge. The net effect will be our having ability to dig deeper into God’s word with greater understanding.

Daily Bible reading for October 18

Psalm 78
1 Kings 12:1-15
Ezekiel 40
Romans 9:30-10:21

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Get to know God

October 17, 2013

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I am the most stupid person there is,
and I have no understanding.

I have not learned to be wise,
and I don’t know much about God, the Holy One.

Who has gone up to heaven and come back down?
Who can hold the wind in his hand?
Who can gather up the waters in his coat?
Who has set in place the ends of the earth?
What is his name or his son’s name?
Tell me, if you know! – Proverbs 30:1-4 NCV

There is a running joke, (or a meme, if you know what that word means) about “first world problems.” We hear so many complaints about how poorly our day is going, when about 4/5 of the world would gladly trade their problems for ours. Problems like hunger, shelter and clean water as opposed to smart phones that don’t work, birth control that isn’t free or $40,000 cars we can’t make the payment on.

If I could make myself heard by every Christian, I would challenge every one of them to center their focus on getting to know God, to find out what he wants from them and realign their priorities before it is too late.

In the above passage, the Proverbs writer sets an example of the humility we need to have in God’s presence. Contrast his admission of ignorance with the pride and arrogance of the average person today. Just as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:2, we are only at the beginning of the things there are to know about God.

God has laid out a really nice plan for us. We should try that now.

Daily Bible reading for October 17

Psalm 77
1 Kings 11
Ezekiel 39
Romans 9:1-29

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No More Spoon

October 16, 2013


Three day old parrot being fed at the Prague zoo.

Three day old parrot being fed at the Prague zoo.

I read a blog post this morning about the content we choose to read. The masses tend to consume the easy to understand, non-threatening material while skipping the stuff that makes them think. They do not want a conflict in what they have already been taught. They want their beliefs affirmed.

Even worse, most people will quit reading when a post uses unfamiliar words or concepts. I’m not sure how we (the masses) expect to learn anything new when we are unwilling to learn new words or risk disturbing some deeply held belief.

An awful lot of people do that with their Bible study. Take the book of Romans – read all the way through, we see the full plan of Salvation laid out for us.

  • We sin
  • We need salvation
  • Christ made it possible
  • Through obedient faith we join his body
  • Through our gratitude we serve him

The details of Romans are challenging and require lots of study and thought. All too often, Romans is cherry picked for specific words and sentences, leaving the context behind.

We should all be more like the noble Bereans. (Acts 17:11) Everything we read and hear about the Bible should be challenged, especially when it is a “new” idea to us. Without that we collectively become less knowledgeable about what God wanted for us. We risk only knowing what someone else wants us to think God wanted for us!

So to restate what got me thinking about this from a Bible perspective:

If we avoid Bible study that isn’t spoon fed to us, all we’ll end up doing is eating from a spoon.

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A Few Thoughts About the Indwelling Holy Spirit

October 15, 2013

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As I continue to think about how the Holy Spirit is in the New Testament Christian from the previous post, I realize there is plenty of disagreement about whether the Spirit actually indwells in us or is given to us in the form of the word of God. I never fully understood how to make my own decision until I took the time to read Romans more deeply – especially chapter 8.

When we understand Romans 8 and other supporting passages, we can understand that we will never have the full measure of the Spirit, like the apostles had, in this lifetime. We can also understand that he will not act upon us to direct our actions. Whether we follow the flesh or the Spirit is up to us. Paul told us that we get an earnest portion of the Spirit, which is just enough to serve us until we get to our reward. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Holy Spirit is not available to us before we become Christians. The idea that he might push us into believing and obeying the Gospel is wrong. The scriptures are quite plain:

  • He’s not available until after the word of truth is heard – Ephesians 1:13
  • He’s not available until after belief – Ephesians 1:13
  • He’s not available until we are sons of God – Galatians 4:6
  • He’s not available until after baptism, the point the gift is received – Acts 2:38

Those who have chosen to follow the Spirit instead of the flesh exhibit certain characteristics. Those things are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith and meekness. (Galatians 5:22-23) These “fruit of the Spirit” are a result of our personal decision to avoid the sinful ways of the flesh and follow him to God.

Daily Bible reading for October 15

Psalm 75
1 Kings 9:1-9
Ezekiel 37
Romans 8:1-17

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Our Communication Line

October 14, 2013

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When most people recite something from Romans 8, they go for Romans 8:28 – “…all things work together for good…”

I’d like to direct your attention to the verses before it though. God gave us the gift of prayer as a way to talk to him, but have you ever been at a loss for words? Have you ever worried that you would say the wrong things? Romans 8:26-27 should be a comfort in these cases.

God wants to know what we need and what is on our heart. His gift to New Testament Christians is the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38f) acting as our mediator to him. We don’t have to depend on the shortcomings of our earthly languages or knowledge to have access to the Father!

Daily Bible reading for October 14

Psalm 74
1 Kings 8:22-66
Ezekiel 36
Romans 7

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October 11, 2013

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Soldiers that haven’t been to battle do not know how they are going to perform when they are called to duty. The truly great soldiers grew through a continuous cycle of training and action and reflection (They call it debriefing.)

Being challenged is part of life. How we respond is where we grow.

Being challenged is part of life. How we respond is where we grow.

We can go to Romans 5:1-11 for comfort when we face trials and sufferings. Any one of us should be able to look into the past and see how something challenging we had to work through became an experience that was for our own good. We might have even been able to use an experience to help others get through difficult times. That is what Paul was shooting for in this passage – a cycle of growth despite adversity:

Hope – trial – patience – character – hope

When I look at the daily challenges I face and the hurt I feel when I see people disparage Christians, This idea helps me understand what Jesus meant when he said

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account – Matthew 5:11

That word blessed? That means happy or fortunate in a prolonged sense (ref. Strong’s G1307.) This give me a better sense of why the apostles were rejoicing for being persecuted in Acts 5:41.

I’m not suggesting we look for trouble for this purpose – I’m sure that anyone working on getting to heaven will find plenty, but I am suggesting that we remember to stay calm and try to understand how we will be better for it.

  • We will have suggestions for others
  • We will know what solution works (or doesn’t)
  • We will grow more mature in the Lord

And most importantly, we will know what we can take when put to the test.

Daily Bible reading for October 11

Psalm 71
1 Kings 6
Ezekiel 33
Romans 5:1-11

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