Thursday, October 15, 2015

Scripture Q&A (Part 4) - Where Do I Start?

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 20:30-31 ESV)

Approaching the Scriptures for the first time with the intent to learn Spiritual truths from them can be a daunting task. Even, or especially, if we know the Bible is the word of God.

Why? Because it is natural to assume the word of God is complex, full of deep symbolism, conflicting analogies, way over our heads, and mostly irrelevant to daily life. We just need to know what to do.

There are people in history who have devoted their wholes lives to studying Scripture, church history, catechisms, creeds, specific saints, Greek and Hebrew, etc. Who am I to think I can even come close? I would need to go to an accredited seminary, study for years under senior professors, and dig deeply into what many other biblical scholars and missionaries have learned before me.

Right? Well, no.

Actually, the thoughts of God expressed through His word are surprisingly delightful and profound. His grace and truth are amazing things to investigate and discover. You can recognize wit and wisdom when you hear it. Likewise, His Spirit testifies to our spirit that these things are true. He only requires a sincere and humble heart, a willingness to show up and listen with the intent, an expectation even, to learn from Him.

The trap is not to settle for human wit and wisdom. Plus, many have either been beaten down so much they don't feel worthy to read the word of God (or see only punishment in it), or they have been exalted because of worldly success or emotional highs or a miraculous experience they think they don't need the word of God to know God.

Those things and other crafty schemes are what so easily ensnare so many of us into thinking we need to depend on someone else to interpret Scripture for us. True, we need a guide. Absolutely! But, this guide should be leading us into deeper understanding of His word, Scripture, not greater guilt for sin, higher morality for improved citizenship, sacrificial charitable and humanitarian deeds, or even out-of-body experiences. Let the word have its application, only guide the new Christian into all truth.

At the same time, God hides these things from those motivated by selfish gain, arrogance, or coming to Him with firm mind made up, self-righteousness, and prejudgment. The wise and understanding of this world have no advantage in understanding God's truth. Truth is revealed to babes: those who don't think they already know better and filter what they hear through existing worldly knowledge and philosophy.

Churches from all denominations, online sermons, stand-alone verses, thick systemic theology texts, and voluminous commentaries can often be a deterrent or distraction from studying Scripture.

"Someone else has already come to an interpreted conclusion. Why reinvent the wheel? They've done the 'hard' part. Thank goodness! I just need to behave (which can be a struggle, by the way) and not get caught."

Again, no. Being saved, living the Christian life, and maturing as a Christian are not about behavior modification, being morally superior, or highly emotional. It's not even about fighting for human rights or achieving material abundance in this life. Rather, it is about thought modification.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to [the patterns of] this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..." Perhaps you've heard of stinkin-thinkin? Well, here's a chance to forsake that negative spiral so "...that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Let what you do follow what you believe. First, believe!

Nowadays, instead of teaching how to study the Bible and letting the Holy Spirit do his job, preachers skip right to making applications in life. How can I be a better [fill in one of your many earthly roles here]? How can I be more [fill in the desired virtue here]? Fortunately, simply living out those applications is not what Jesus meant when He said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b) The answer to "How?" becomes self-evident when you understand "Why?"

Is someone "blessed" because they have a big house, a nice new sports car, and a cushy salary? That's what the worldly would have you think. But, the Father's plan, executed through Jesus Christ, is about something much more important. Let us let the Guide, who is the Holy Spirit, and a Pastor/Teacher (someone gifted by God to assist) lead us so that we are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-14).

What is the Holy Spirit's job? Simple, because He's highly motivated, but not easy, because we resist Him so much...

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

Let yourself be filled with the humility and curiosity of a child gently and sincerely asking one of his parents, "Where do I come from?" Other questions to contemplate while reading Scripture may include:
  • "The whole Bible is so big! Where do I start?" 
  • "It's so confusing. What should I learn first?"
  • "Is accuracy important? What translation should I use?"
  • "Who can I trust to help me understand what I read?"

Should I listen to sermons, read other books about the Bible, such as commentaries, or follow guidelines to living out Christian applications, such as The Purpose-Driven Life?"

Wow! That's a lot to consider. First, don't worry. God knows where you are in life. He knows your heart, your humility, your eagerness to know Him and diligently seek Him. Coming to Him should not provoke anxiety. Rather, it should result in peace, joy, and rest for your souls.

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 11:28-30)

Second, don't stress about the end so much as just enjoying the journey. Think of it this way: God wants to work in you. You're job is simply to show up.

At the same time don't just continue randomly to show up and pick a verse to memorize. Have a purpose and a plan for taking that wonderful journey. Ask questions, even tough ones. God has solid answers. Be prayerful. This is not an exercise in academics. The more diligent your seeking, the more rich and rewarding the experience will be.

To make some simple suggestions about getting started, I will assume your initial goals, or questions, may include ones like these:
  • What is the 'Big Picture' of the Bible?
  • Who is Jesus Christ? How can I know Him?
  • What is salvation all about? 
  • What does it mean to go from lost to saved?
  • How can I understand the job of the Holy Spirit?
  • What is Christian living really all about?
  • Etc.

Well, here are some simple guidelines I'd like to offer for getting started, plus a few areas of focus to keep in mind. Don't get stuck on what you don't understand. Keep your perspective on the context and come back to it.
  1. Open the Scriptures; God has already spoken.
  2. Follow your heart's desire to know Him through the Scriptures.
  3. Seek to see things from His perspective and understand His thoughts.
  4. Get to know Jesus Christ as a Person, especially since the Father is well-pleased with Him.
  5. Desire to eventually understand God's eternal plan, but don't jump to conclusions.

Follow your heart's desire. My heart wants to dabble and dive. It wants to skim and inspect. Sometimes I read a passage for quick refreshment. Other times I study for a scheduled length of time on a particular area of Scripture or an a specific topic.

Lastly, remember you are in the age of the church. While much of the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, mostly to show where Scripture is being fulfilled, it also has language that is exclusive to the church. So, it would worthwhile to discover what's so special about the church. That way, you'll understand the boundaries of what belongs to the church and what belongs to another age.

Please leave a comment if you would like to engage in a conversation about these and other 'Scripture Q&A' or 'Why Scripture' posts. Thank you!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Scripture Q&A (Part 3) - How Does Anyone Get Truth?

"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15)

I'm back! That is, I'm back to quoting Scripture verses packed with so many wonderful things to talk about. But, for your sake, I'll try my best to contain my enthusiasm.

To start, definitely take note that Jesus Himself said...
  1. He still had many things to say to His disciples.
  2. His disciples could not bear them at that time.
  3. The Spirit of truth would come and take over in guiding them.
  4. The Spirit of truth will be thorough in guiding them into all the truth.
Many things to say? Wow! Didn't He say it all with the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord's Prayer, parables, the teachings about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, rebuking the religious leaders, personal interactions when performing miracles, the confirmation of Old Testament fulfillment, etc., etc.?

Aren't we supposed to just pick up from His example of gentle, non-judging love and kindness and imitate Him? Isn't it our highest calling to joyfully marvel at what He did and offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving? No! Not according to these verses, anyway. Yes, those things, but also so much more.

Yes, what He did was great, beautiful, stunning. He amazed crowds (and me, perhaps you) with His wisdom and authority. Paul didn't hold back his amazement when he offered stunning doxologies in his letters. But what Christ did for us should not be minimized: He opened a door that had never been opened before, to reveal a secret and hidden wisdom of God destined for our glory before time began (1 Cor 2:7).

Because of the work that Christ did in executing the Father's plan, we have been given the opportunity to know the Father intimately. The Father, our Father, who did not He spare His own Son, nor His own Spirit. The Spirit that is in God has been freely given to the believer.

Consider these perspectives: these "many things to say" must be very important for Christ to make such a big deal about them, yet these "many things to say" were beyond human comprehension because it was spiritual information. We would do well to let Him teach us and not presume we already know what He is going to say because we long to loved and forgiven.

Why? Because these "many things" that Christ still had to say, that His disciples were not ready to bear, were the very thoughts of the Father. What was His plan before the foundations of the world? What is His primary goal for the Church, which is the body of Christ?

All that the Father has belonged to Christ, and the Spirit would reveal all that Christ had. To understand what Scripture is saying from a human perspective is to miss the boat. Instead, let us with patience have ears to hear.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Scripture Q&A (Part 2) - Where Does Truth Come From?

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

How's that for a short, simple answer?
  1. Truth is God's word. 
  2. God sanctifies us in His word. 
  3. So, His word is where we find truth.
Yes, I know, it's not like me to be concise. But, in this case, it's the best way to be clear. Perhaps, all I can do is provide other ways to say the same thing.
  • Truth is the word of God. 
  • All Scripture is God breathed... (2 Tim 3:16-17). 
  • The word of God is alive and powerful (Heb 4:12). 
  • Truth is the revelation of God through Scripture. 
  • Truth is God's reality.
God's reality is who He is, who we are, what is His eternal plan, His purpose, what is the church, what is suffering, who is Christ, etc., according to His perspective.

Truth comes from God. Truth comes from God's word. Scripture is God's word. So, what truth will sanctify you? God's word, aka Scripture. (Stay tuned for the Who and How of sanctification.)

So, in John 17, why did Jesus pray that His disciples, and those who would believe through their message (John 17:20), for His Father to "sanctify them in the truth"? Simple answer, so that the truth, through God's word, would set them apart from the world.

Another way to look at this beautiful simplicity is to understand what truth is not. Truth, God's word, does not come from...
  • the wisdom of humans
  • personal experience
  • feelings nor emotion
  • anything apart from Scripture
  • traditional nor ritual
  • higher moral standards
  • inward meditation
  • legalistic self-righteousness
  • reciting the Lord's prayer nor a sinner's prayer
  • salvation alone
  • etc.
I think you get the idea. The list above is just a list of what Scripture, God's word, is not. If God's word cannot be those things, neither can truth be. Why? Because "Your word is truth."

Furthermore, which I'll save for another time, there are distinguishing features of the truth, God's reality, His word, as it pertains to the church. Huge differences from anything we've seen before.

But, for now, we've looked at a high-level of what truth is (Part 1) and where truth comes from (Part 2). Stay tuned while we ask how we acquire this truth (Part 3). We will need this 3rd part as we seek to discover the critical details of the truth as it applies to Christ's church, His body.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)

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

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?

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 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 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 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. 


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.


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.

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