Month: October 2015

Reflection: The Consistency of the Power

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re discussing how we can trust the Bible as the inspired Word of God. 

The Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is rooted in four aspects of the Bible.

  1. The Consistency of the Message
  2. The Consistency of the Effect
  3. The Consistency of the Power
  4. The Consistency of the Promise

This week, let’s look at how the power of the Gospel helps us trust the Bible as God’s Word.

Humans have an innate desire for answers that corresponds with a desperate need to ask questions. Human history reveals that our accepted ideas about the world and its people vary drastically according to where and when we live. Depending on the culture we were brought up in, we develop certain expectations of ourselves as well as certain limitations. We all are raised aware that certain things are not possible and beyond our reach. The goals that evade us can be personal goals we strive to attain, but are limited by our natural and limited physical or mental ability. Or perhaps these goals could pertain to certain physical or mental obstacles that seem impossible to overcome or change, such as a physical or mental handicap.

While medicine and therapy are limited in their power to change, the miraculous characteristic of the Word of God is its consistent ability to create change where no change was possible. The Word of God has always been able to make a way where we humans confidently proclaimed no way existed. The Word of God makes the blind see, the lame walk, and broken receive restoration. The explanation for this power is that it comes not from the mind of humans with limited knowledge of the problem, but that it comes from the creator himself. The very One who created paradise, witnessed the Fall, brought forth the redemption for the Fall and has never removed his hand from what he loves. We humans are blessed with enormous knowledge and ability. However, only God can know all problems of all people in all nations throughout history. Only God can know the precise way to bring about the needed change in all of these strangers, uniting them in a common mission to heal the world in the power of his name and with the power of His Word. While the human heart is deeply self-absorbed and boastful, to suggest that man, rather than God, is somehow orchestrating the healing power of the Gospel seen in our world since the 1st century would surpass our most exaggerated heights of self-worth.

Tuesday Devotional: Titus 1

Read Titus 1bible

The Holy Spirit works dramatic and undeniable transformation in the lives of sinners.  The Holy Spirit does not do adjustment or alteration, but complete redesign.  This new design in the new self finds its only parallel in the life of Jesus Christ.  His character is the only one that resembles the radically new desires of our heart and ensures that these new desires are meant for permanent display.  When testing the work of the Holy Spirit, the only standard must be the life of Jesus Christ.

Claiming to have met God and to know him stands for nothing if the fruit of his spirit is not represented in the new self.  Any and all efforts to lead others in the way of Jesus Christ will be fruitless without the leadership and spirit of Jesus Christ being made anew in the new self.  Leadership of self is stubbornly juxtaposed to the leadership of God.  A person led by the world for success in this world will not and cannot lead compatibly with the will of the Lord.  The ways of the Lord are holy and righteous, and the ways of man are sinful and self-serving.  Therefore, as one person assumes a leadership role over another, whether in a marriage, a friendship, a profession or a church, the standard must always be the life of Christ and his authority over the lives of sinful man.  There is no acceptable worldly authority in any human relationship that can unleash the healing power God intends to unleash.  This feat is impossible for man.  It cannot be accomplished.  It cannot be realized out of human effort.  The leadership that does not oppress, does not neglect, does not harm and does not destroy can only come from a model that has never done such things.  The leadership of Christ is love, peace, strength and healing.  Only by complete submission to his leadership can one ever lead others in this world and produce the same fruit that his leadership does.

Reflection: The Consistency of the Effect

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re discussing how we can trust the Bible as the inspired Word of God. 

The Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is rooted in four aspects of the Bible.

  1. The Consistency of the Message
  2. The Consistency of the Effect
  3. The Consistency of the Power
  4. The Consistency of the Promise

This week, let’s look at how the effect of the Bible on those who read it helps us trust the Bible as God’s Word.

We humans are complex beings. We evolve, adjust, grow and change with the passing of time. Our views on the world we live in are dependent on not only where we are raised but also when we are raised. Our views on ourselves have changed, developed and in some ways digressed, with the advancement and proliferation of sociological and psychological studies. Theories of human behavior have left our general understanding of who we are in a state of hyper-developed immaturity, still quite unaware of the truths for which we continually grasp. The Bible’s ability to not only clearly explain the ultimate truths we all seek, but also to offer solutions that apply to all people, of all nations, from all times, sets the Word of God apart from other books that simply venture theories and/or hypotheses on who we are, why we’re here and where we are ultimately going. There has always been, and forever will be, truth that affects all readers of the Bible one way or another. For the person seeking answers to problems, the Word of God reveals the root of not only our deepest desires but also the root of our deepest suffering. Additionally, for the person seeking to explore human origins and human existence, the Word of God presents truths that often offend us by telling us what we know deep down to be true and in many ways want to believe, but want desperately never to accept. Whether to repel in rejection or to attract by need and love, readers of the Bible are always marked by what they read.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Timothy 2

bibleRead 2 Timothy 2:1-13

God does not need man.  God desires man.  In order to accomplish his objectives in this world, God does not need us, but he wants our involvement so that we can witness him at work.  The involvement is not assistance, but participation.

We have a distorted perspective of our role in the works of God in this world.  We often bear witness to the works of God in our immediate surroundings and like to inflate our roles in the process.  We reason ourselves into believing that without our openness, or obedience, or righteousness, the outcome would not have been possible.  This is a lie.  The truth is that the healing or change to which we were made privy was prepared and put into effect long before God called us into the picture.  The truth is that God did not need us so much as he included us. The healing or change that we witnessed was as much for our benefit as witness-participants as for the person or situation being healed or changed.  God’s desire to include us ultimately had little to do with the person whose change we witnessed. It has everything to do with us seeing a powerful presentation of the Father and his majesty.  This was a moment we were meant to see, but not so that we could stake any claim in what we saw.  We were brought in to see what we saw so that we could tell the world about it.  Our involvement in the works of God in this world is for us, but is never by us.  God involves us in his work so that we can build our faith with the truth that God is for us and nothing can stand against us.  God desires for us to be involved in his work, and be about his business.  He does not desire to work in private or keep us at a distance.  He provides us every opportunity to see him work, though it would be easy for him to work alone and accomplish his goals in private. From the beginning he walked with us and invited us to work alongside him.  This is because he loves us. He knows that we can only be made complete when we know him to the point of knowing what he is capable of, and are completely overwhelmed by how efficiently and powerfully he works while still making time for his children.  He daily calls us into his work, not for us to help him finish, but merely for us to be with him while he works.

Reflection: The Consistency of the Message

The Reflection Series for this month comes from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re discussing how we can trust the Bible as the inspired Word of God. 

The Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is rooted in four aspects of the Bible.

  1. The Consistency of the Message
  2. The Consistency of the Effect
  3. The Consistency of the Power
  4. The Consistency of the Promise

This week, let’s look at how a consistent message helps us trust the Bible as God’s Word.

For many people reading the Bible for the first time, one of the obstacles in understanding and enjoying the Word of God is its repetitiveness. The stories are cyclical, and the message remains the same throughout all 66 books of the Bible. The story arc holds steady; it doesn’t waver according to time, place, or person. The truth is believed and repeated, believed and repeated. The ability of the Word of God to seamlessly express the same truths to all people of all languages is unparalleled in literature, and impossible to replicate. The only explanation for such a seamless collection of truths conveyed by different individuals living in different time periods from different backgrounds is that the inspiration and work are of a Being outside of and completely independent of each individual writer, aware of the entire story and thus able to orchestrate words that link past to future, with writing occurring in the present. Man would never imagine such a radically ludicrous endeavor. Thus the impossible consistency of the God-inspired words of the Bible is one of its most powerful proofs.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Timothy 6

Read 1 Timothy 6:11-21bible

The life of a Christian is a fight.

This is neither hyperbole nor exaggeration.  The life of a Christian is a fight.  It is a continual and never-ending fight to defend not only against outside influence and attack, but also against the enemy within.  In many ways, the most potent opposition to the spirit of Christ being revealed in us is the sinful nature, which, firmly rooted, we have nurtured day after day, year after year.  While many Christians spend a disproportionate amount of time keeping watch for external attacks and influence, it is often not these external attacks that produce the most devastating results.  For a Christian, the external attack is ineffective, unless it replaces a once firmly held truth; that is, unless it switches places with something that preceded it.  To allow an external influence to carry us into disobedience or unfaithfulness we must allow it to occupy the position of the truth of the righteousness of God that at one point or another was rooted, deeply or superficially, in our hearts and minds.  The messages and temptations of this world are so contradictory to the messages of the Gospel that to follow this world requires that something be lost and forgotten.  Protecting oneself from the external influences of this world has as much to do with preventing oneself from forgetting, as it does preventing oneself from believing.  Belief in the lies of the enemy demands room in the human heart that cannot be occupied so long as the truth of the Gospel remains present.  In the presence of Gospel truth the ploys of Satan are of no significance.  In the presence of the Gospel truth the temptations of this world are utterly laughable.  They are an infomercial that cannot deliver on what it promises.  The gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to view the realities of this world with uncompromising clarity.  It gives us a clear view of God’s reality: what is hidden, what is false, and what is real. In the presence of the Holy Spirit the promises of this world cannot be believed.  In order to believe them one must remove the involvement of the Holy Spirit entirely.  In the same way one must lose one’s life to gain it back again, one must also discard those blessed truths in order to rediscover the life that revolves around oneself.  The life lived daily trying to please self cannot exist alongside the life lived for Christ.  The life of a Christian is consistently under attack and must consistently be protected and fought for.  However, while this fight requires relentless attention and steadfast alertness against attacks inside and out, Christ has come to fight on our behalf, and has won.  This fight is not easy but with Christ victory is guaranteed, so long as his truth occupies the throne of our hearts and the center of our minds.  We must fight forgetfulness before we fight temptation.

Serving the King: Change

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Change (Ephesians 4)

The apostle Paul left behind a lasting legacy in the many letters he wrote to churches and individuals important to the early Church.  While at first glance all of the letters seem to discuss the same topics and ideas, as one devotes more time to them, the diversity within each letter separates them into distinct messages, rather than one massive “Paul Letter” section of the Bible.

The letter to the Ephesian Church expresses sound Christian theology; however, its purpose-driven nature sets the letter apart from the others.  Throughout the letter, Paul not only reminds us of the things that have been and will come as we continue to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, but also devotes significant attention to the idea that falling back into a previous way of life is no acceptable option if the experience of meeting Christ was true and Spirit-led.

The idea of “genuine change” is best expressed in a different letter: Galatians 5.  Paul compares this change in a person’s life and character to a fruit tree. Paul used the idea of “Christian Fruit,” first taught by Jesus throughout his lifetime.  As a person begins to change their life in Christ they witness the emergence and growth of “fruit,” namely love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, peace, gentleness, and goodness.  It is in the discovery of this fruit that, Paul explains, a follower of Christ will become aware of the change promised by Christ emerging in their character as a Christian.

A theme of Paul’s letters, including the letter to the Ephesian Church, is the notion of a “new life” and an “old life.”  This idea is far from original with Paul as it was first and best explained by Christ himself in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  According to Jesus there was a clear difference between a person’s old way of living and their new life as his disciple.  Just as a baby, once born, does not return back to the mother’s womb, likewise a new Christian does not return to their “old life.”

However, this desire to stay away from the “old life” does not come through force or insistence by anyone but the person directly involved in the change.  There must be some experience that plants the seed of this desire in the heart of the individual, a seed that continues to grow over time. Awareness of the distinction between the two lives emerges within a person, along with the desire to maintain the newly found direction of this “new life.”

When we are children there are many instances where we are headed straight for a mistake or a bad situation.  Parents may try with all of their might to prevent children from experiencing the predictable outcome that might bring harm.  However, there are also times where the parent knows that to allow the child to experience disaster may be the most effective decision. It may be that allowing the child to fall, so to speak, and allowing the child to experience falling will prompt an experience, not rules, that will encourage a change.

For example, when I was young I loved to play in the sink in our kitchen as my mother cooked or did housework.  My mother would fill up the sink for me and then allow me to play in the water with my favorite toys, clad in a raincoat to protect me from the violent splashing that would ultimately ensue.  However, one day my mother was not around to ask to fill the sink, and I saw an alternative in a large pot of water atop the stove.  Unaware that the pot had been left to boil in preparation for pasta, the only thing I saw was an opportunity for me, along with my toys, to explore new and exciting waters.  Needless to say, what followed was a massive burn that left a sizable scar on my left hand that is still with me.  As a result of this experience, I did not stop my fun water game of splashing, raincoats and toys. What I came away with was a cautious awareness of pots and boiling substances on the stovetop.  That burn gave me enough to know that I never wanted to make the same mistake again.  The scar was a visible reminder of my decision and its consequences.

When Christians, like Paul, discuss the idea of a new life, many people assume that this is just cheap Christian lingo, something we know is in the scripture but don’t know how to experience.  Reading Paul’s desire for the Christians at Ephesus to “put off the old self” makes us aware that there’s something to be done there, but defining the “old self” can seem complicated and discovering the “new self” can be rather ambiguous and hard to comprehend.  What is not difficult to understand is that both Jesus and Paul took this “new life” extremely seriously.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that to be a Christian and to represent his name in our new identity means carrying the burden of a cross that accompanies this “new life.”  For some, this cross is heavy, splinter-ridden, and a burden.  This perception of the “new life” can soon make returning to the “old life” without the cross look pretty appealing.  Assuming that the cross means judgment, rules, and impossible expectations makes burning oneself in the boiling water of the “old life” almost desirable.  The difference between the Christian who has not truly encountered the living God and the Christian who has been born of the Spirit, is that the first has not truly understood the dangers of the boiling water, and the second has found that one burn was enough.  The first saw no reason to change; the second saw that change was the only option.

Being changed by God is not something that happens to you but something that happens within you.  The change is supported by the awareness that ahead of you is a well-lit path, and behind you the dark ground already traveled.  Someone who has truly met Christ recognizes that in the darkness exists a world of mistakes already made and desires left unfulfilled.  For this person, walking ahead into the well-lit path of “new life” with Christ is an opportunity to enter into a world of hope and promise.  From this place, the decision to place the hand in the boiling water a second time would seem insane.

At the heart of the Christian’s transformation is an inner acknowledgment that to “go back” is not only counterproductive but counter-intuitive.  Going back is never an option.  Service, bearing the cross in the new life, becomes a part of who you are, and less a list of things you are required to do.  Service becomes more of an instinct and less a choice to be considered.  Serving the king, the suffering servant, the great Teacher, becomes your lifelong desire, the essence of who you are and everything you do.

To know Jesus is to be made like him.  By serving him and serving like him we truly find union with him.  This union establishes us firmly on the rock that is Jesus Christ.  It is then on this rock that we can honestly and confidently refer to ourselves as Christians.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Thessalonians 2

bibleRead 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

When we are experiencing suffering or trials, the suffering itself is often not the cause of our pain.  The cause of our pain may be more related to our perspective of that suffering.  It is a question of size.  When we experience a setback or tragedy it becomes far too easy for our problem to balloon to an irrational size, overwhelming everything else in our lives.  As our problem grows in size, we shrink, and feel overpowered by it.  In this state, the comforting words of a friend to “stand firm” are typically received with thanks, but are of little practical use.  In this state of despair what we need is not necessarily a power to remove the suffering, but something powerful enough to restructure our perspective.  What we need in these moments is something bigger than our suffering.

For many, the primary purpose of the Bible is comfort in times of suffering and helpful hints in times of confusion.  This approach to the word of God is not only mistaken, but is a travesty when one understands the why we were given the Bible.  This misuse of the word of God is the equivalent of using a brand-new Porsche to haul firewood.  The purpose of the word of God is not to comfort us or instruct us.  The purpose of the word of God is to define us.  The word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, is that very thing that can restructure our perspective, providing us the hope and strength we require in order to persevere through and over our suffering.  The word of God is big.  It is not only big in the sense that God is big and if he is in control then we can have nothing to fear.  It is big in that from the beginning God has included us, along with billions of others, in his family, the family he has protected with his life.  The word of God not only gives us a starting point that validates the desires of our heart and the longings of our souls, it gives us the way that so many have walked before us— and prevailed.  The word of God is not stories and lessons to learn from.  The word of God is our story. It is our story because it is his, and he made us.  The word of God gives us hope in standing firm that goes beyond good advice.  It grants us the perspective of creation and transformation, which began with God and is continually brought about by God.  In the face of the suffering of this world, the magnitude of God and our place alongside him has the ability to reduce any and all trials we face.  If God is for us, then who can be against us?  If God is with us, what problem can ever overwhelm us?

 

Serving the King: Priorities

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Priorities (Matthew 5)

The teachings of Jesus Christ, found throughout the Gospel narratives, are the foundation on which a Christian builds her life. These teachings are most concentrated in the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon holds such well-known commands as, “Do not judge,” “Love your neighbor,” and “Turn the other cheek.”  The teachings of Jesus come fast in this passage, and are overwhelming in their expectations.  If you don’t read it carefully, the famous sermon may be nothing more than a peaceful evening with the “good shepherd” on a grassy hillside, everyone holding hands while breathing deep sighs of contentment.  But if we really consider the life this sermon called Jesus’ disciples to live, one can imagine that those sighs of contentment as shocked gasps.   How could anyone be expected to live that way?  If we realize this, Jesus might possibly respond, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God,” as he does in Mark 12.  The reason being that to understand these standards are impossible leaves room to believe that the only way to achieve such impossible standards is through power greater than our own.  In fact the only way to meet the standards found in this famous sermon is to be drawn to the power of God, not the power of self-will.

Matthew 5:23-24

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

In the previous three readings we explored three issues directly pertaining to the idea of serving God.  First, we found that we must serve with obedience.  Second, we must serve recognizing God’s power.  Third, we must always be prepared to suffer in service as our “suffering servant” served and modeled before us.  In all of these scriptures, what we read were descriptions of what God wants from our service.

The fascinating aspect of Matthew 5 is that here we finally hear the voice of God speaking through Jesus Christ about service. God says that when we come to serve him, we must be motivated, inspired and focused on serving God alone, devoted to serving him and nothing else.  Jesus tells the people that if there is anything else that occupies any space in our hearts or minds, we might as well take the offering, set it down, go take care of our “more important business” and then come back and serve.

Today, it is not unusual to find a church on any given Sunday at any given location filled with people who have set aside a one or, for the “high-level Christians,” a two-hour block in their weekly schedule for God.  Our world is fast-paced and full of obligations.  We have many things to do and have little time to get anything done.  In this environment people find it increasingly difficult to “make time” for God.  Unfortunately, this includes our time as we take our seats at church.

While many of us face schedules and commitments that require much of our energy, time and attention, we pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task.  Multi-tasking is a great skill when the objective is to complete several tasks in the least amount of time.

But the danger of becoming a professional multi-tasker is that we become so proficient at occupying our time with multiple tasks at once that we lose our ability to determine when one task deserves our complete and undivided attention.  For example, the idea of ” family time” has suffered increasingly over the past 20 years.  The amount of quality time that families spend with one another with no distractions whatsoever has been on a steady decline, a trend that may be attributed in some ways to “busyness” and “multi-tasking.”

When you don’t give your undivided attention to something or someone you hold to be important to you, the quality of that relationship will suffer and the relationship will ultimately lose that sense of importance.

From this perspective we can better understand the demand of Jesus that we take care of certain issues before approaching the altar with offerings.  When we come to God preoccupied with a thousand different things, we are doing the equivalent of starting an important discussion with a close friend and then immediately answering a seemingly trivial phone call while “sharing” this “quality time.”

Being raised in a Christian household gave me many impressions, assumptions and ideas about how to live a Christian life.  However, what I understood was superficial at best when it came to who God actually claims to be and what he specifically desired from me as a Christian.  I believed God was the egotistical, power-hungry “man upstairs” who, without much proof or explanation of his true existence, wanted me to trust him with everything and believe that the basis of this demand was loving and in my best interest.  I believed what he wanted from me was regular church attendance, prayer and the practice of impossible standards, many which are noted in Matthew 5.

When I at last read through the entire Bible, I did not find the God I expected to find.  This God was not obsessed about the things I thought he would be.  In regards to service and worship, like the verses in Matthew 5, God clearly states that he would rather have no offering, no church attendance and no money from a so-called “Christian” if those things came with a divided focus and a divided heart.  I discovered that God’s desire was to have all of my heart, but not if I was unprepared and unwilling to give it all away.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands many things from those who choose to follow him.  He desires service, a level of commitment to his promise of transformation that seems impossible.  However, without a fully prepared heart and mind to pursue this new life, Jesus would rather we not accompany the offering into his presence.