Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 3) Isn't it good enough to live by the 'Golden Rule'?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

What is Scripture good for? Everything! Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) His words are life!

The problem comes in when we translate His words to human understanding. Isn't it good enough to live by the 'Golden Rule'? No, that's not the point, not the main one anyway.

As humans, we want structure, organization, and rules for conduct, all given with authority. So, we naturally look for those things in the Bible. We are inclined to interpret the Bible on our terms.

I've heard some people use the word 'BIBLE' as a cute acronym intended to sum up its purpose: 'Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth'. Some others say it's all one long love letter, fitting with "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16) Still others interpret it as a very stern rule book with stiff penalties for the slightest infraction.

What's really going on Scripture for the church age is all about identification. The New Testament contains spiritual information, not human information, for those members in the body of Christ, the church. The key to understanding this age-defining spiritual information is in understanding what Paul called the mystery. The mystery is not salvation, which was known to previous generations. But understanding of the mystery comes through the gospel, the salvation of your soul. (Eph 3:1-5) We must come humbly before His word in prayer to comprehend it, any of it.

To disseminate this pertinent information, He has created a system of evangelists and pastor/teachers (2 roles, 1 person) for the growth of His church (Eph 4). God's word is intended to transform us by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It's to help us understand how we are in Christ and Christ is in us (John 14-17). It is knowledge of His ways that makes us distinctly Christian, not good and moral behavior.

But, we must accept His word, His teaching, His reproof, His correction, and His training in righteousness on His terms. Can you imagine what it means to be a New Creation in Christ, where the old has gone and the new has come (Gal 5:17)? If not, turn to God's word with all humility and prepare to be delighted to find out just how much He has prepared for you.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Once you are born of the spirit you are saved. Your salvation is now 100% His responsibility, and nothing will snatch us out of His hands. Once saved, the issue is not the maintenance of your salvation, it's growth, from the milk of the word to the meat of the word, maturity in Christ. Don't confuse complex concepts as meat just because they're complex. You may not be ready for meat until you have fully assimilated the milk. That's okay! Let God's word, with the help of the Holy Spirit, gently guide you into all truth (John 16:13).

Will you submit to His word, rather than the common misconceptions rampant in the world?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Scripture? Are they just words on a page?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

Have you ever read a book or engaged in a conversation that was flat? The cover or title of a book, or its recommendation, may have gotten us curious and started. But, a little way into it, we realize it isn't for us. It's superficial and not at all engaging. A conversation may begin with someone you thought would have something interesting to say. But, it was immediately bland and struggling to cover anything meaningful.

Sometimes, however, usually on rare occasions, we force our way through a book or conversation and it ends up touching us in a way we could not have imagined. The story may have started slow with seemingly needless details of the environment, that were not very exciting, only to blossom later into profound insight that gave us chills. The conversation partner, initially dancing on the edge of nervousness, suddenly becomes vulnerable and shares from the heart a deep and personal struggle that brings us to tears.

Other translations of Hebrews 4:12 use phrases like "quick and powerful (KJV)," or "alive and active (NIV)," and at the end, "it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV)." In all these translations, the idea is clear; we are talking "rare occasion" here. It's for anyone, whoever, but not everyone will stick with it. May I encourage you to do so?

If you push through this book, the Word of God, with a humble heart, it will blossom into such profound spiritual insights as you could not have imagined. It has the power to bring you to your knees in recognition of His splendor, majesty, and wisdom in one moment, to your feet in praise and thanksgiving the next, and ultimately to such an intimate relationship with the Father that you and He are thinking alike, motivated by a deep love, both of which are beyond anything the world has to offer.

If you listen to your conversation partner, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth (as He is called in John 16), you will hear Him speak gently and vulnerably from the heart of God, found in Scripture, of His intention all along, with your glory in mind, since before the ages began (1 Cor 2:6-7). But, this will take time, effort, and humility.

The key word is, "push." The "intentions of [your] heart" will determine if your conversation partner feels safe enough to be vulnerable. He will never force you to listen. Sometimes, it takes a while for Him to open up, depending on your capacity to assimilate new information, or for you to actively listen, due to countless distractions in the world. Keep showing up. Ask the Holy Spirit for clarity and guidance. That's His job and He loves when you let Him do it cheerfully!

It may seem like you're trekking through irrelevant and/or overly-complex details at times, but hang in there. Be consistent in showing up, focused as can be. Past experience, traditions, or what you were told to believe may cloud your path. But keep walking. Pace yourself. Let Him be the light unto your path.

There is profound wealth to revealed, which isn't shown to just anyone. God rewards those who diligently seek Him. It may seem like the story is utterly beautiful in some places, and then disjointed and/or self-conflicting in others, but hang in there. There is material to be shared from the heart of God that remains hidden until sought out, diligently. And all the riches of the world pale in comparison to the value of knowing Him.

So, if the Word of God does not seem "quick and powerful" to you yet, or it is not quite what you would call "living and active" at this time, be assured it is not an empty claim. Rather, it is more glorious treasure than you could ask, intended for you, that you haven't discovered yet. It has the power to transform your life. Keep digging! And keep a humble heart!

~ ~ ~

Resources:  For easy lookup of Scripture, verses, and translations, I sometimes use www.BibleGateway.com. Since I mostly use the ESV and NIV (e-Sword and hard copy), this makes it easy for me to get the same verses I'm studying in the King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), New American Standard Bible, (NASB), and several others. 

I tend to stay away from, but will sometimes compare, more liberal translations (those further from the original languages used to write the Bible) that are intended to stir the heart, such as New Living Translation (NLT) or The Message (MSG). I find the deep things of God tend to be watered down in these versions.

On a regular basis for personal study, I use the free download from www.e-Sword.net on my Windows 8.1 laptop. Some Bible translations, dictionaries, commentaries, etc. are free, but others require purchase. This application makes it very easy for me to keep notes on what I'm studying, look up Greek (NT) definitions in Strong and Thayer, and compare my studies to popular commentaries.

E-Sword is also available on mobile devices, but I was already using YouVersion by LifeChurch.tv. The search feature seems weak on my iPhone, but I love to listen to Max McLean read the ESV translation. YouVersion has an online version which looks good, but I haven't used it at all yet. 

For good old-fashioned hard copy print, I primarily use the English Standard Version (ESV) New Classic Reference Edition by Crossway publishing, and the Classics Devotional New International Version (NIV) by Zondervan publishing. Less frequently, 

I also use an ESV Study Bible, an NIV Study Bible, et al, but they tend to lean heavily toward certain theologies based on human denominations, experience, or emphasis. I'm careful to glean the thoughts of God into a comprehensive, cohesive and logical whole, and I not try to fit the Scripture into a predefined structure based on human study, no matter how many centuries old or wonderful sounding. Of Scripture, I will always ask how, when, what, and especially why until I get an understandable yet profound answer that fits neatly into the big puzzle of God's purposes for us here, and His ultimate and eternal plan for the church. 

Enjoy!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why Scripture? First in a series of devotions about the Word of God.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

Many of us become Christians and wonder, "What next?" We, along with those who are contemplating Christianity, wonder, "How do I know which teaching to believe with all these church denominations, worship styles, preaching styles, and differing sermon contents?" Exasperated and wanting to avoid settling for 'good enough', we may find ourselves coming alongside Pilate and joining him in asking Jesus, "What is truth?"

John describes the dialogue at the Last Supper in his gospel in chapters 13 thru 17. In John 17 specifically, Jesus turns His focus toward praying to His Father for 1) Himself, 2) His disciples, and 3) those who would believe through their message. This particular verse, John 17:17, is applicable to the audience in items 2 and 3, that is, all believers in the church age.

With so many seemingly possible directions, and with so wide a path that leads to deception, where do we ultimately turn for absolute authority in determining truth? God's word. Everything we need to know about truth, God's reality, or reality for the Christian according to God, is already contained in the Scriptures. Everything! Not only is His word truth, it alone has the power to sanctify us.

As we'll see in coming devotions, the Scriptures are where we find the elaborate and wonderful definition that answers the question, "What is truth?" So, join me in discovering how we can depend on His word, and with the help of the Holy Spirit in prayer, we can for learn, understand, and assimilate in our hearts exactly what God wants us to know.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Just Show Up

This Ted Talk resonates with me in many ways. I'm passionate about ideas concerning creativity, genius, inspiration, and wisdom. Of course, as a Christian, I know what this "elusive" Source is that, rather who, defies definition by people without God, or believe only in something that can't be explained, such as an energy, or have barely a loose understanding of Him. There's much more to Him than moral rules, principles, guidelines, prophecy, and physical healing.

Ted Talk - Elizabeth Gilbert - Your Elusive Creative Genius



God wants to reveal Himself in many ways because He wants people to notice Him. Why? Is it for bragging rights? Is it merely to bring glory and honor to Himself? No. It's because He has a uniquely special and personal message for us, and He wants to capture our attention so that we'll listen.

This particular Ted Talk reminded me of the verses that describe Scripture as God-breathed or given by the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16-17), depending on the translation. He is not elusive, from the humble, that is. For He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), and we are to seek Him and His righteousness before all the temporal things of this world (Matt 6:33).

What's amazing is He has blessed us with the responsibility of ambassadorship. He has privileged us with the joy of being a part of His plan. He loves us so much, by including us in the process, we see with the eyes of our hearts the power of His amazing grace. He wants us to share in the glory of His Son, to comprehend the riches of our inheritance in the saints, to rejoice with Him like the Father of the prodigal son, and sing with the angels in heaven, when even a single sinner repents and believes.

Furthermore, we are no longer children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but rather speak the truth in love, (Eph 4:11-16) when as believers we finally come to understand what is the Father's plan and what is our role in it, and then get comfortably fitted with His armor (Eph 6:11-20). When we are fitted with His armor and use it, by application we can experience the working of His great power within us to His ends. And when we experience this power, His power working through us to His good pleasure, suffering takes on a whole new meaning, and we welcome the opportunity to share in Christ's suffering, to die to self, and to live for Him.

We are given this honor by grace, a true gift from God, working through faith when we put on the shoes of peace, and courageously carry the scroll of His will on our tongues to any who would listen, or in my case, read.

But if He is doing all these things, what is our job? To just show up. Like Mary choosing the better thing than Martha, we need to listen to God speaking. Writers like Elizabeth Gilbert might be confident in thinking this "elusive creative genius" is a "glimpse of God" and shout "Olé!" But, she seems clueless as to why God would share a glimpse of Himself. It was less about eating, praying, and loving, in the world, and more about paying attention to the burning bush in her heart. It reminds me to be intentional and diligent in seeking Him, step 1 of which is just showing up to hear Him through Scripture.

Lastly, why Scripture? Simple, John 17:17. We shall be sanctified by the truth, and His word is truth. It's everything we need. It's everything He wants to say to us. We don't get our special calling in isolation. His calling for us is already described in the word of truth. Where we show up is important. I believe that means reading and writing, Scripture and prayer, and then exercising the courage to share His desires, love, and plan.

:-Dwight

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Am I a Friend?

I may be a friend and have friends. But, do I have friends like Jesus did?

I heard this in part of a sermon weeks ago, it's still on my mind, and here it is paraphrased with additional comments... 

Jesus earned a reputation of being a friend of those whom religious leaders rejected. 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (Matt 11:19, Luke 7:34).

Why? What did 'tax collectors and sinners' find in this friend that attracted them? For what reason did God's only Son actively seek them out and invite Himself over to their houses for dinner? How did these relationships transform lives and not simply modify behavior?

More importantly, I ask myself, if Christ is in me, would so-called 'tax collectors and sinners' be attracted to me for the same reasons? Am I ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me? Am I willing and able to be used as a privileged instrument in His hands to do His will, the work I was created to do, which is to do my part in the building up of the body of Christ?

I would absolutely love to do these things. Christ even said, "Greater works than these you will do" if I abide in Him. He wasn't talking about performing miracles; that was to show who He was. He was talking about executing the Father's eternal plan, the very reason we were created and exist on earth (Eph 2:8-10): to build on the foundation, Jesus Christ, and become a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:18-22).

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:18-22)

My greatest desire is to delight in Him. Therefore, I will study His thoughts and His ways, expressed in His word, and...

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

Do you also long to discover the truth and grace that filled Christ? Do you honestly desire to know God's thoughts? Be teachable, humble, then ASK...

A - ask, and it will be given you.
S - seek, and you shall find.
K - knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Remember, salvation is His responsibility and doing. It is by grace through faith you are saved (Eph 2:8-9). As John MacArthur said, "If you could lose you salvation, you would."

And remember this common verse, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)?

Sanctification, on the other hand, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Son of God, follows salvation. It is optional and requires humility. Humility is your choice. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

God wants and expects us to grow up into Him who is the head of the body of Christ: the church. How? His word. "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17).

Sanctification is not about repeatedly going over and over how we are sinners and don't deserve salvation. Are we to remain infants in thinking and forever wonder about the birth process?

Growing and maturing in Christ requires cooperation with the Spirit of Truth, who's job it is to guide you into all truth. That is why Scripture says do not grieve the Spirit; because you can. The issue isn't "once saved, always saved." It is "once saved, now grow."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Notes from a Refreshing Bible Study at In Him Counseling Services

These are notes from our last study of 2014 on Wednesday morning, 12/31/2014. That morning's focus was on John 1:11-13...

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)

Why did His own not receive Him?

1. Familiar - isn't this the carpenter's son? How is He calling God His Father?

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58)

2. They wondered about the miracles, but flat out denied He was God.

I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." (John 10:30-33)

3. He didn't follow the traditions of men, which were taught as doctrines of God.

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:5-9)

4. How does anyone receive Him? The Holy Spirit reveals it to them.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)

They did not receive Him. Why not?
It's about humility, which they did not have, and arrogance, which they would not give up.

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you." Acts 7:51

...nor did the world know Him. Why not?
Because righteousness comes from God, not by anything man can do. Without the Spirit of God, man can do nothing.

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

Contrast that with the believer...

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name... 
Who would receive Him, who would believe in His name?

1. Whoever...

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

2. Those who do not refuse to believe...

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

He gave the right to become children of God
Many say we are all children of God already. But that was not what God said. He clearly said the right to become children of God would be given to those who believe in the name of His Son.

It's beautiful! Why mess with that? Why resist the Holy Spirit? 
People who resist the Holy Spirit want something to boast about, whether it's keeping the law, being a good person (or at least trying), or latching onto a cause for the sake of humanity. The sin nature is dying to claim it's "good enough." Some claim we don't need any standard of righteousness at all, and put down the idea that there even is a God, or that He matters. After all, we've got serious problems in this world to solve, or chances for wealth and prosperity while we're here, right?

But Scripture also tells us clearly that a) our best works are like polluted rags to God, and that b) salvation is a gift of God so that no one can boast.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  (Isaiah 64:6a)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Lastly, we must be willing to let go of our thoughts and expectations because God has something much better for the believer now than we could ever ask or imagine, and that it was His plan all along, even before the foundation of the world. (For the mature, read 1 Cor 2:6-12.)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 

Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20)

...who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This is where it all starts for us: being born of the Spirit. Yes, since we exist we were born of water, the flesh. But, unless we are born again, we merely remain flesh. But now, we must be born again.

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' (John 3:5-7)

At our Bible study, we looked into many verses of Scriptures and had lively discussions around these verses. The notes I wrote above, I hope, capture the essence of those discussions. There was more commentary, as well, and I do not recall it all now. It's a good thing that...

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Until next week, praise be to God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

In Him Counseling Services is a Christian Counseling center located in Raritan, NJ.

Read more about it at www.InHimCounseling.com. Please comment and/or share!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Word of the Day: Harmony

Word of the day: HARMONY.  I first understood this word to be a musical term when I was young. Then, I thought it was just an analogy for things that worked well together.  Then, I understood it to represent the melodic highlight in the symphony of life, where the crescendo of labor and the staccato of interruptions complement each other, as do the legato of routine and the forte of demands. What made it a symphony? Love, the secret ingredient that bound all these things together perfectly.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)

But, then I discovered the final movement was still yet to come.  Not only that, it was to be played in my lifetime.  I stood back from the podium and took in the beauty of the original score that gave no sound in itself. Yet, here was the plan for the masterpiece to follow.

With fresh eyes opened in my softened heart, I could see that, not only was there consonance to resolve the dissonance, there was coda closely trailing recapitulation bringing the entire composition to closure, ending in even greater perfection and celebration.

My ears perked to catch every note that would sound as one in a full and unifying chord of glorious hallelujah, knowing that each note and rest was chosen by the score's Creator before the foundation of the world for my glory, for our glory, written with love.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7)

Please, enter the great halls and enjoy the concert. The Composer promises to fill your heart and mind with everything for which they were designed. Something which no ear has ever heard, or eye has ever seen.

[May our] hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)