Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scripture Q&A (Part 1) - What is Truth?

Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:33-38a)

For the moment, I'm skipping toward the end of the book of John to bring us to a crucial question that Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" That's actually an excellent question we should all ask ourselves.

What is truth? How does one "bear witness to the truth?" What does it mean to be "of the truth?" What does it mean to listen to the voice of Jesus? How did Jesus fulfill His purpose for being born?

All excellent questions. You probably know the circumstances of John 18. The Jews put Jesus on trial, a mock trial, and determined that He needed to be killed. They literally made up accusations at the trial to find Him guilty of anything. (Matthew 29:59-62) They certainly weren't seeking His answers, or the truth.

Caiaphas said it was better that one man should die than the whole nation of Jews perish (John 11:50, 18:14). They got nowhere in the trial with false accusations. But, when asked directly, they heard it from Jesus' own mouth that He claimed to be the Son of God, which Caiaphas used to declare Him a blasphemer, conclude the trial, and swiftly exact and deliver punishment. (Matthew 26:63-66)

Even though they picked up stones to kill Him lots of times before, this time they thought they were justifying themselves before the people by pretending to go through the proper process of condemning a man to death. What an amazingly awful spin the Sanhedrin put on the situation for political gain! Their strongest motivation was to protect their self-righteous authority over the Jewish nation. The refused to accept this Jesus for who He said he was.

So, what exactly is truth according to Scripture? We've already learned that we can find the definition and boundaries of truth in Scripture (see "Why Scripture?"). It must be some pretty important information if Jesus said bearing witness to the truth was His whole purpose for being born and coming into this world. In living this purpose He was ultimately condemned to death by crucifixion.

So, how do we seek out the truth, discover it, and assimilate it? We start with humility.

Before we crucify Christ (again), disregard Him, assume we already know the truth (whether believer or not, church-goer or not), before we get our understanding from human wisdom, or settle for shallow answers to deep questions, let's humble ourselves and simply let Him tell us. After all, He is the Word and the Word was God (John 1:1). He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Let us find rest in His response. As the context of the verse in the subtitle of this blog says...

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Now We Know Where to Get Answers

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Scripture makes it clear that it is the one and only source for the truth that is God's reality. It is literally His words. It also makes the formula for coming to the full knowledge of the truth plain and simple: 1) believe He exists, and 2) believe He rewards those who seek Him. And He wants both...

[God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

Humans simply won't have "ears to hear" (spiritual information) if they don't believe He exists. He is incredibly patient and knows how much truth we can understand and assimilate.

He will meet us wherever we are in our walk with Him, or even if we don't yet know Him at all. If we create capacity for His thoughts, He will faithfully fill it.

How does one create capacity? Simple, with humility. Be teachable. If you have the attitude of, "Oh, I know that already," we're telling Him to stop talking because we're not listening.

What will He fill this capacity with when we listen? Knowledge of Himself, Christ, and truth, slowly and gently, and eventually His deepest thoughts, which were actually meant for our glory before the ages. Let's earnestly seek what He wants to give us: Himself!

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

How does one seek Him? Diligently. What does that look like? At first, it just looks like showing up to hear His words in Scripture. Then, He has much to say and it takes time, so be consistent in showing up and with the intention to learn. Finally, we sharpen our focus as His thoughts start to become our thoughts as we are transformed.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Now that we know where He is, where His wisdom can be found, we can approach Scripture like a treasure hunt, because that's what it is. This is where the fun begins. We can ask Him all sorts of questions if we approach His word with humility (teachable) and faith (trusting He will tell us the answer). In fact, I would strongly suggest if you think you already know the answer to basic questions, think again. The depth and richness of His word may surprise you.

In the next series of devotions, we'll start looking at some of these questions. I hope you join me on this wonderful journey into the relationship of a lifetime, an eternal lifetime...

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 7) Rest

Jesus said to him [Thomas], "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. 
(John 20:29-31)

Have you ever read those real-life warning labels that clearly show the manufacturer is trying to avoid, or has already encountered, a lawsuit that defies common sense? On an iron, "Do not iron clothes while wearing them." Or hair dryers, "Do not use while sleeping." I think most people wouldn't think to use those appliances in the ways the warning labels state. Nevertheless, and sadly enough, unfortunately, those labels are there for a reason. In case you didn't think of this scenario, don't do it!

Perhaps that's a bad analogy, but it's close enough for now. Scripture contains spiritual information that we do not have otherwise. We need to be taught these things. We cannot go to a different source to learn what the word of God has to teach us.

Here's a better analogy. Let's say you want to learn a computer skill, such as SQL (Structured Query Language) for use with a relational database. (If I'm already losing you due to technical terms, relax. The ride is over shortly.) The point is, you need to learn about SQL from material that teaches SQL. It doesn't help much to read a book about a person that benefited in his career by learning SQL. Nor can you learn SQL by studying books on lawn mower engine repair. It doesn't even help to get a real good book on SQL, read the introduction and say, "Oh, I don't think I need to read this carefully. I already know what the author is going to say."

In the same way, God has thoughts He wants to communicate to us. If we want to hear those thoughts and not someone else's, we need to go the Source, and we need to go with a teachable attitude. I hope we see clearly that Scripture is that Source. If not, review Parts 1 through 6 of "Why Scripture?" and leave a comment to ask questions or engage in discussion.

There are two points I want to leave here.
1. Scripture is the word of God, just as it claims to be, and contains His thoughts which are not ours.
2. Only Scripture reveals His thoughts, and He wants us to know them and pursue them.

Consider these next verses...

In the one from Isaiah, clearly His thoughts are not ours. They are higher than ours. Without the help of the Spirit of Truth, we cannot grasp them. They are foolishness otherwise.

In the other, God has freely given to us what we need to be guided into all truth. Truth here means God's reality, not our reality. Weird things happen when people try to stuff God's reality into ours. It doesn't work. Why fight it? Instead, let's grow in understanding of His reality.

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)

Yet, for the church (with some underline and comment to help out)...

But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- [that is, supernatural things] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 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 2:9-12)

So, before moving on, let's check in with ourselves. Are we persuaded to turn to Scripture as the source of truth, God's reality, church-age defining spiritual information, as God's very own words, and to let it be our ultimate authority? Yes? Maybe? Sort of?

Well, fortunately, God doesn't require that you are 100% convinced just yet in order to benefit from His love and grace for us. He knows it's a learning process, but He will reward those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). As you dig deeper, in humility, He will reveal even more truth to you, and your soul will recognize His words as spiritual as you become sanctified by the truth and transformed by the renewal of your mind. But first things first! For now, let's just rest a moment and allow these lessons to sink in.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 6) A Good Interlude!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

Let's take a closer look at the verse I introduced in Part 5, John 1:1. After all, it's rich! It's one of those verses that at different stages of our Christian growth we say, "Oh, I've seen that verse before," and then later, "Oh wow, I didn't see that in the verse before." It's as if John took to heart the saying, "Life is short; eat dessert first." ;-)

I love a good classical concert, especially featuring a Mozart concerto. But take any concert as an example, preferably one you love. See yourself at the venue. Now picture the interlude, or intermission. A short span of time to take it all in. I've noticed most people at a concert will either calmly head straight to the restroom, stand on one of two long lines to buy a severely overpriced snack, or they will just move around a little near their seats, perhaps even stretch nonchalantly.

While the rest of the crowd is preoccupied, however, we're going to take a special detour. That's right, we're going backstage to meet the performers, producers, assistants, and stagehands. We'll have a chance to see what makes this production possible, its planning and execution, the entirety of which started with a wonderful thought, sprinkled generously with warm motivation.

That's what we have in John 1:1. The start of something glorious. Mention of its intention all along. A plan and its execution. The Person with an eternal plan, God, and the Person who would gladly execute it, the Word. Father and Son. Inseparable. Unconquerable. Let's look for the gem's sparkle in that verse. If you don't see it, I would encourage you to keep looking. It's there!

In Part 5, I said that God and the Word are the same thing. I need to make a theological distinction here. (Did I lose you at "theological distinction?" Then try "glorious insight!") The "thing" that is the same is their divine nature. As we venture through Scripture in these devotions, I will elaborate on that point. What's different is the Word is Jesus Christ Himself, and yes, He is with God and is God. But as a Person, He is the Son, not the Father. How can we be sure? Scripture! A few verses down we read this...

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)

Pretty clear, huh? So, where do we get that Jesus and the Father are of the same divine nature? A good sermon? Well, not always. In fact, not commonly. Scripture, of course, is where we'll find the definition of that unity. (Here's a few samples if you'd like to peek ahead: John 14:8-11, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15,19, John 10:37-38, et al.)

What would make the sermon good is if it were based entirely on Scripture. Sermons should be Scripture explained. Otherwise, what sermon is right? The one from a dynamic and engaging speaker? A convincing televangelist? A street preacher? The church to which your family has always attended? Which sermon can you believe? What part(s) of the sermon are the truth God is speaking? Everything needs to come back to Scripture, the word of God, the Word and God.

This verse, John 1:1, explained with Scripture is a good example of how these "Why Scripture?" lessons can be put to use. The verse has something to teach us beyond the surface which is not always taught in church, because churches don't always teach Scripture, or from Scripture without diluting if or mixing it in with human wisdom.

Some denominations, for example, don't even tie verse 1 with verse 14 as shown above. Those sermons, therefore, get confusing as they try to make sense of these verses separately.

But Scripture is pretty clear when you just let it say what it says. When in doubt, trust Scripture. It is the word of God. Hey! Even when not in doubt, trust Scripture! The Father's eternal plan and the Persons of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will become clear. You, too, can rightly divide the word of truth, not being tossed to and fro by every wave of doctrine, and grow into the fullness of Him who is head, into Christ. :-)

Now, back to the main attraction! Stay tuned for Why Scripture? Part 7.

A final word... 

Make your life a mission - not an intermission.
~~Arnold H. Glasow
(Source: www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/arnoldhgl144778.html#st3Rg2EpW0PmUgzi.99)

Make your mission to be transformed by His mission!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 5) Consider the Source.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

Sometimes, when I tell a colleague at work what I heard, that is, what's the rumor being spread, who's getting what work, etc., the person will turn to me and confidently say, "Consider the source."

Instantly, I recognize that there may not be any truth at all to the rumor going around, and my mind no longer entertains the unfounded claim. Rather, I simply tell myself that if there's even a speck of truth worth pondering, I'll wait until it comes from an authority.

In the first verse of John of the first chapter of John, we have such an authority, and its truth is well worth pondering. Consider these three claims: 1) the Word existed from the beginning, 2) the Word and God were always together, and, in fact, 3) the Word of God and God are the same thing.

We could ask, "In the beginning of what?" What does it mean by "with"? Does it mean they were in accord with one another? Or did they actually exist together, like Father and Son? Good questions.

But, the thought I will highlight today is the third one, literally, "the Word was God." With this thought comes the notion that...

Your attitude toward the Word is the same as your attitude toward God. 

That claim ought to give us pause to examine motives deep in our hearts. Do I really treat Them the same, or do I claim to know God even while not comprehending His Word? Do I place emphasis on a personal relationship, yet dismiss what this Person is trying to tell me? Do I think it's just a set of rules with a reminder that He loves me? Have I become reliant on an interpreter, like someone called a priest or pastor, minister or reverend, to shield me from what is overwhelming, so I can focus on trying to be a good person and/or trying to obey the Ten Commandments?

Evaluating our attitudes and responding to the call of God is a grace-filled opportunity. Perhaps, we've never considered the equality of the Word and God quite like this. If so, let us change our attitudes and treat Scripture with a new found respect. In any case, let us pray that the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, will use our time in Scripture to guide us into all truth. It's all there. He's all there.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why Scripture? (Part 4) Why Study It?

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2‬:‭15‬ KJV)

Lots of people imagine lots of ways to please God, and many apply biblical principles thinking this is what they are accomplishing. Be good as possible. Obey laws. Act morally. Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. God loves a cheerful giver. Faith without works is dead. Etc.

But I wonder how many of them would say the way to please God is through "study of the word of truth"? If I want to love others and not offend them, this sounds like a recipe for arrogance and hypocrisy, a matter of right and wrong by which to judge others. Yet, God wants us to study Scripture if we are to know His purposes. Let us carefully consider why we should study the word of truth.

I specifically chose the King James version for this devotion. If rightly dividing the word of truth is what keeps a workman unashamed and approved unto God, then the word "study" is probably more appropriate than the phrase "do your best" found in other popular translations of this verse. "Do your best" simply sounds like trying hard to be a good person.

Many people, whether they go to church or not, think pleasing God, or living the life we were meant to live, is all about being a good person who is kind, generous, and loving to others, and/or obeying civil and moral laws. They miss the point of what it means to be under grace and not under the law as part of the body of Christ.

Yes, Scripture does say, "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (‭Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭14‬ ESV) But, context is critical here. Putting behavior before identity is putting the cart before the horse.

It is the word of truth, not behavior, that will transform us (John 17:17, Romans 12:2) into His image. It's about our identity in Christ from which pure and blameless behavior can flow.

Instructions and admonishment from Paul about behavior are directed toward believers, or "saints," as he addresses them, so that they may grow in grace after they are saved. Instructions about righteousness are directed toward unbelievers, intended to bring them to repentance, changing their minds about doing things on God's terms instead of their own.

(This thought helps to understand why Jesus was a friend of sinners, who were humble, yet He hated the religious leaders, who were arrogant and self-righteous. The former largely didn't hesitate to believe, and great crowds followed Him and were astonished. The latter, however, wanted to kill Jesus for claiming to be God, and only followed Him for the purpose of trapping Him in committing blasphemy, so they would be justified in accusing Him of being worthy of death before the crowds.)

Moral behavior is a good thing. Loving your neighbor is also good. Acts done in kindness are real good things. But, let our focus be on letting Him change us through His word, which is His chosen method, instead of trying to change ourselves for Him by ours.

Seeking Him is restful and joyful, although it does take focus. Seeking to please God on our terms can lead to burnout and frustration, or give a false sense of the complete joy intended for us. Many become more like Martha than Mary, and are anxious and busy (Luke 10:38-42), instead of listening to and assimilating in our hearts the words of life (John 6:68).

We are powerless to change for Him on our terms. However, His word is powerful and active to change us on His terms (Hebrews 4:12). If His words are so powerful and capable of transforming us, and giving us reason to not be ashamed, making us approved unto God, surely they are worthy of great study.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Other Scripture Referenced Above:
Biblical Principles throughout Scripture
Thoughts of being a friend of sinners / hating religious leaders throughout 4 Gospels

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

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, (John 6:68) Read the context of at least John 6:63-69.

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) This verse is also the subject of a previous devotion, Why Scripture? (Part 3).

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?