Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you ready for Christmas?

Luke 2:10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Starting tomorrow we will be taking the next 31 days to consider what the Bible has to say about the purpose and meaning of Christmas.  Tomorrow the blog will have a new look.  My hope and prayer is that this "Growing Christian Resource" will enable you, believer, to maintain a solid focus on the glory of Christmas - Jesus Christ.  We will look at everything from the various pictures, to striking parallels to some of the 109 prophecies that would be fulfilled in Christ's first coming.  Christmas is mysterious, and miraculous, because its message is about the Marvelous Christ who came to die and conquer death, hell and the grave.  May God richly bless you in the upcoming month!

How to die to the world, and live for God

Genesis 35:3-4 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Dying to self in a nutshell
In these last several blogs we have covered the crucial concept of "dying to self"  We have discovered that in order to die to self, I must do three things: Get in order with what God has said; Reckon my former identity (before salvation) to be dead and third, understand that in God I want to move ahead.  We have also explored the benefits that come with "self-denial" or "dying to self": God's power is released to deal with trials and there is clearer illumination of who He is in your life. 

Where dying to self leads - "Dying to the world"
In the passage above Israel (formerly Jacob) makes a statement that demonstrates that he has truly died to his former identity of self-reliance.  His family had been trvaeling all over the land of Canaan with a bunch of idols in their possession.  When you read passages such as Joshua 24:1-2, you discover that these idols had been in Israel's family for centuries - stretching all the way back to the days of his grand-father Abraham.  God had certainly been working a lot of things in Jacob's life - with His great encounter in Genesis 32 breaking the strong will of Jacob. 

1 John 2:15-17 tells us this - "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

What in the world is "the world"?
When the Apostle John in 1 John 2:15-17 (just quoted) refers to not loving the "world", he is not referring to the people of our planet - rather he is referring to the system of human thought and satanic-inspired activity hostile to God.  The word for "world" is the Greek word "kosmos", from whence we get our English terms like "cosmopolitan" and "cosmetics".  It speaks of a certain arrangement of things.  Thus for instance when a woman applies "cosmetics" to her face, she is using a product that helps her "arrange" her appearance.  To hate the "world" means to not go with the flow, to hate what God hates, to oppose the system "arranged" against the God of the Bible.  In short, to die to the world means to love what God loves and hate what God hates.

The reason for dying to the world - Prioritize fellowship with God
When Israel told his family to "put away the idols", he was in effect declaring his left over allegiance to ungodly priorities to be at odds with his now-God-centered approach to life.  In the course of Israel's experience, God had made a "fellowship issue" with Israel and his family.  A fellowship issue is when God reveals to you that a certain thing in your life must go if you are to remain in close walk with Him. (please compare 1 John 1:6-7) 

God had to deal with other issues in Israel's life first, such as self-sufficiency, lying and stealing.  With those issues out of the way, Israel had this area he had to deal with - the family idols.  Unless Israel died to the world in this area, then he would only demonstrate that he had not died to self back in Genesis 32.  Fellowship with God had to take priority over his own comfort and preference if he were to move forward in his faith-walk.

Dying to self is the only means to dying to the world
What would had happened if Israel had not died to self back in Genesis 32?  He could not had carried out this bold initative to get rid of the family idols in Genesis 35.  Often when Christians hear about not being worldly, they think that dying to the world means wearing a longer skirt or adopting some type of legalism.  Whenever we try to escape the world without dying to self, we actually end up becoming more worldy!  Why?  Because legalism only deals with behavior, and not the heart. 

Dying to self deals with those deep seated, anti-God assumptions in my heart.  Unless I root those out by exposing my thought-life to God's word and surrender to God in prayer, I will never see the true need to die to the world. (compare 2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

The cross is the only means to die to self
At salvation the cross is the place where I anchor my faith in the death, burial and ressurection of Jesus Christ.  In sanctification (the process whereby I am becoming more like Jesus Christ following my conversion), the cross is the tool used to bring-about Christ-likeness and death to self.  Co-crucifixion with Jesus Christ is where I daily identify my life with the cross.   Paul writes these words in Galatians 6:14 - "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." 

When Israel told his family to "get rid of the idols", we see him building an altar to the Lord.  Israel was demonstrating an important truth - that only in identity with the blood can the Christian truly overcome the world.  That altar pointed to the ultimate event of Christ'as death, burial and resurrection. 

As we close this important blog series, I think it appropriate to give a verse from the last book of the Bible, Revelation 12:11, that captures the heart of faith that readily dies to self and the world: "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When God becomes clearer to you

Genesis 35:10-12 God said to him,“Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. 11God also said to him,“I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. 12“The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you. And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”

Dying to self heightens your awareness of Christ's Ownership over your life
Yesterday we saw in the life of Israel (formerly Jacob) that in dying to or denying his selfish, sinful drives, he was able to operate through tragedy after tragedy on the power of God.  When the self-life of the Christian is regarded as unimportant, and put back mentally and spiritually on the cross, the Lordship (the authority) of Christ goes from being a fact to an experience. 

Jesus does not become your Lord when you die to self.  When you are converted by grace through faith, Jesus Christ becomes your Savior, Lord and Treasure. (compare Romans 10:8-10).  The truth of the fact is established by God's Word.  Yet in your daily experience as a believer, your awareness of Christ's control over your life can only come about when you die to self.  In other words, you come to appreciate, delight in and see Christ more clearly.

Jacob's life illustrates the positive benefit of dying to self - seeing God more clearly
In the passage quoted at the beginning of today's blog, The Lord is speaking to Jacob and re-affirming the promises he gave to his grand-father Abraham and father Isaac.  God also reminds Jacob as to why he changed his name to Israel, and that His calling and destiny could be now fully lived out as a result of him dying to self. 

This is why "dying to self" must be a daily reality in the life of the Christian.  Anytime the attitude of "when I want, how I want" rears its ugly head, unless I deal with that through regarding what God had said and rendering my former identity to be dead, in God I will never be able to move ahead.  The power to deal with tragedy comes as we die to self.  In the darkness of suffering, God's grace matches and exceeds with Him revealing Himself to us in a clearer way. 

What you truly gain in dying to self
Read the context of Genesis 32-35 and you will note two trends: Israel's trials increased and his understanding of God increased.  If God had not broken Jacob of his selfish pattern of running away from his problems in Genesis 32, then he would not had been ready for the clearer illumination of who the Lord is in Genesis 35.  Let us close today's blog with this thought from Philippians 3:8 - "than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ."

Monday, November 28, 2011

God's power to deal with tragedy

Genesis 33:20 Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel

The Pattern of the Faith-walk following your conversion
A couple of days ago we began looking at Jacob's wrestling match with God in the earlier parts of Genesis 32.  We saw that God did a work in Jacob's life whereby he learned how to die to self.  If you were to survey Jacob's life for just a moment, it gives us a preset pattern for what would be the full and complete teaching about the faith-walk with Christ in the New Testament: Conversion by grace through faith in Genesis 28 and death to self and the world in Genesis 32 and 35. 

Today we want to look closer at Jacob's life following this incident where he died to self, and discover the benefits that come from submitting to this ongoing truth in the life of the believer.  Now as we look at the passage above, Jacob built an altar following his historic meeting with his estranged twin brother Esau.  Remember how we discovered Jacob running from Esau for twenty years?  God broke that tendency in Jacob's life, Jacob died to self in that area, and now was renamed Israel. 

How "dying to self" prepared Jacob to go from the mountain to the valley of faith
Jacob builds an altar, and names it "El=Elohe Israel" which translated means: "God, The God of Israel."  Undoubtedly Jacob's encounter with Christ (see previous blogs) would be termed by many a mountain top experience. He had conquered his greatest fear through the power of God.  The big meeting with his brother was over.  However for Israel (formerly Jacob), difficult times were around the corner.  In fact, when one considers what took place in Jacob's life over the course of 10 years (from Genesis 33-35), it is staggering:

1. His only daughter Dinah, a teenager, was raped by the mean of the land in Genesis 34:5
2. His sons kill those who violated Dinah, but in the process bring shame to Israel Gen 34:30
3. Deborah, Israel's mother's nurse, undoubtedly like a mother to him, dies in Genesis 35:8
4. Rachael, his beloved wife of 50 years, dies in Genesis 35:17
5. Reuben, Israel's firstborn son, committs incest, and Israel finds out about it in Genesis 35:22
6. Isaac, Israel's father, dies in Genesis 35:29

Anyone one of those events would had devestated anyone of us.  Yet Israel persevered.  God speaks to him in Genesis 35, while he is still reeling, telling him to go back to the spot where he had first met him.  Without hesitation Israel tells his family to pack-up - its time to do as God says. 

When self dies, The Lord's life can shine more clearly in and through you
I am convinced that when we are in God's will, trials and testings will actually increase. (please compare Romans 5:3-4; James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7)  Why?  Because we have committed our hearts to intentional living for God.  Dying daily to your interests in favor of God's desires sets hell on high alert - that your faith-walk is poising itself to be empowered by God, rather than you.  Despite these trials that attended Israel's life, God's power was there every step of the way.  Jesus reminds us in Hebrews 13:5 - "Never will I leave you nor forsake you". 

Despite whatever horrendous circumstance you may be facing, the Lord is desiring to manifest Himself to you, so as to lead you through the valley of the shadow of death.  When self surrenders - it lays the believer's life into the arms of Jesus.  Paul writes as a man in prison these words in Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why self denial is at the heart of discipleship

Galatians 2:20 - “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

A disciple is someone who follows Christ by faith, and continues on in faith, acknowledging Him as Savior, Lord and Treasure.  Yesterday we began looking at the truth of "dying to self"  as essential to living effectively for God.  We saw this concept illustrated in the life of Jacob in Genesis 32.  Jacob would learn, like every believer, that in order to follow the Lord, you must die to that principle that daily rears its ugly head in your soul - self. 

How essential is "death to self" to the believer's faithwalk?
Without question the New Testament unfolds this truth most fully, since God typically unfolds all that He has to tell us in a progressive fashion.  We find out that "dying to self" or "self-denial" is at the heart of what takes place when one begins following Christ by faith.  Jesus states in Luke 9:23-24 - And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25“For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" 

Furthermore this teaching is affirmed most clearly by the Apostle Paul in the passage above.  The imagery of being "crucified with Christ" is a common image used to describe what it means to die to self, since the chief aim is intentionally identifying oneself with the life and work of Christ Himself. 

Self-denial is essential to the Christian's daily growth or "sanctification"
As a work of grace that accompanies the believer's saving faith at salvation, the notion of "dying to self" continues to unfold itself, like a rose, throughout the course of the believer's faith-walk or "sanctification".  The great apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:31 - "I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily."  So daily I must do what we saw in the last blog in dying to self:
1. Get in order with what God said
2. Reckon or consider my former identity (formed prior to conversion) to be dead
3. Only then in God can I move ahead

Paul writes these words in Romans 6:11 - "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."  Only when I choose to regard "self" (the source of "self-centeredness", "selfishness", "self-seeking) as worthy of crucifixion, death, can I live more fully for God, and Him live more fully through me. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dying to live for God

Genesis 32:24-28  Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” But he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28He said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.”

What is necessary to live for God?
Jacob was the grandson of the well-known patriarch Abraham and father of twelve sons who would be the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.  In this chapter he is 96 years old and is getting ready to face a fear that he has been running from for over twenty years - his brother.  After receving word that his brother, Esau, was coming his direction with 400 men, Jacob responded and by the time we come to our text above, the Bible says: "Then Jacob was all alone".  As we will see, Jacob would learn that in order to live for God, something about himself had to die.

Self must die if we are to live effectively for God
Jacob was getting ready to experience a work of God that is daily necessary in the life of every Christian if they expect to move forward in their Christian walk - dying to self.  Self is that principle at work in our soul that fuels our sin nature to want what it wants, when it wants and how it wants.  Dying to self, or self denial, is fundamental to what it means in being a follower of the Lord.  Jesus states it plainly in Luke 9:23-24 - "And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24'For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." '

In order to over come his enemies, Jacob had to be overcome by God
This episode in Jacob's life is intriguing, for he wrestles with an individual that is identified simply as "a man".  Now scripture bears out that this was no ordinary man that met Jacob in the desert.  Hosea 12:3-4, written over a 1,000 years after our account here in Genesis 32, gives an inspired commentary on just who Jacob was wrestling:
Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed;
         He wept and sought His favor.
         He found Him at Bethel
         And there He spoke with us,

5Even the LORD, the God of hosts,
         The LORD is His name.

It was none other than God Himself that wrestled with Jacob in the form of this "unamed man".  Other scriptures will further clarifiy that this mysterious "man" who is really "God" is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ.  Undoubtedly the Bible's dual identification of this figure in the Old Testament was foreshadowing what would be the complete revelation of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man in the New Testament.  As they wrestle, the Lord asks Jacob for His name.  Quite simply, he was asking for Jacob's surrender, since the giving over of one's name was tanatmount to acknowledging the superiority of your opponent.  Jacob did that, and as a result he received a new name - "Israel". Why?  Quite literally, the Lord states that he had prevailed against men, and strived with God, and by grace accomplished both.  Jacob would never be the same again.

When you die to self, expect your walk with God to be different
When this epic battle was finished, it was clear that Jacob, formerly headstrong and strongwilled was now a broken man.  However that did not mean he was weaker.  If anything, Jacob had entered into a whole new realm of relationship with God.  The Bible tells us at the end of this fight, Jacob walked with a limp.  Jacob (Israel) was now more useful to God because he had to die to who he was as Jacob in order for the power of God to manifest itself.  The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 - "And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

How do you die to self?
Let me give you three principles from this text in Genesis 32 that shows how Jacob died to his old identity:
1. Get in order with what God said.  Genesis 32:24-29
2. Reckon your old identity to be dead.  Genesis 32:30-32
3. Only then in Good can you move ahead. 

The benefits of dying to self
By dying to self, Jacob was positioned to receive further illumination from God on the nature of his calling. (Genesis 35).  Additionally, by dying to self, the power of God could flow more freely through Jacob's life, the power Jacob was going to need to face tough tragedies such as the loss of his wife in Genesis 35:17 and his father in Genesis 35:29.  May you and I understand and apply this essential truth for living for God. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Two Doors of Faith and Obedience

Romans 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake

What does it mean to believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  As the Apostle Paul begins his great letter to the church at Rome, the mark of genuine saving faith is demonstrated by the willingness to live out God's word.  When you see that phrase "obedience of faith", that little word "of" tells us that there is a relationship between "obedience" and "faith".  The relationship in this verse is that of a specific effect arising from a particular cause.  The effect in this case is obedience - willingness to follow Jesus Christ in what He says in His word.  So what is the cause?  Faith.  

Faith is the door opened by God that invites me to enter into His life
The idea of "faith" being desribed by the great Apostle Paul is that of "saving faith". Faith in the original language refers to "persuading someone of the truth of a matter".   Ephesians describes this saving faith as a gift, given by God as a result of His Grace.  We also discover from passages such as Psalm 19:7, Romans 10:17 and James 1:18 that faith is granted to us by the agency of God's word.  As God in His grace is affecting the interior of my heart- that is - my human spirit - He is setting up a door.  His work in the interior of my heart - which the Bible calls "grace", puts up a door of invitation called "faith".

Therefore faith is likened unto a door that God places before me.  The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:23 "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed."  Once the Holy Spirit shows me what that door is, I act in response to His working and open that door, effectively entering or participating in the very life of God. (2 Peter 1:3-4)  It has been often said that we are saved by grace through faith alone, and that following our salvation we are ebing saved by a faith that is never alone.  Thus.... 

Obedience is the door I open to invite the life of God to enter into my own
Clearly God makes the first move in salvation, since He in His grace so moves in my heart to be firmly persuaded of His identity and claims through the gospel.  Following that work of grace, what demonstrates that I am operating by faith is in the obedience that issues forth from my faith.  When I choose to obey God, it is my way of putting an open door in my life, welcoming the life and power of God to affect that area. 

For instance, saving faith itself is a work of God that takes place apart from my effort.  I can't do anything to persuade God to save my soul - salvation is a work of grace, initiated by God on His terms.  It is based upon the work and life of another - Jesus Christ. Once that work has begun, and I respond, I discover that my faithwalk is characterized by a faith that works.  James 2:17 reminds us that "faith without works is dead".  Therefore as you grow in your faithwalk with Jesus Christ, every decision and event will be marked by whether or not you will take the saving faith you received and excercise it in obedience. 

Jesus is pictured in Revelation 3:20 as "standing at the door", knocking on the door of your heart, awaiting entry.  That's not a text speaking about salvation, rather it is addressed to believers who need to open the door of obedience so that Christ can come in and shine forth His life into their own so that they can have closer followship with Him. (Galatians 4:19)  May we be ever ready to open our life of Christian faith to obedience to the Lord.     

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why Thanksgiving gives confidence to do God's will

Finding pleasure in God and being thankful go hand in hand.  1 Chronicles 29:13 tells us - "13Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name." 

The word translated "praise" could also be rendered "to enjoy, have confidence, find pleasure".  If you are really enjoying something (like candied yams or honey glazed turkey), thanksgiving to the cook will come naturally.  The words that come from your lips will reveal what is in your heart. 

THANKFULNESS WILL GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE TO LIVE OUT THE WILL OF GODAs we saw in yesterday's blog, as Paul wrote those words in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, he was thinking and writing as a Jew.  In the context of his writing, Paul was encouraging His readers to focus all of their attention on living and pleasing God.  If God is the pleasure, the delight of my life, then the command to "keep on giving thanks" will not be a drudgery, but a delight.  Thanksgiving is the one activity that ensures me that I am in the center of God's will in that particular area.  Whenever my whole life is characterized by thankfulness, I am expressing my pleasure in God, and I have confidence that I am doing His will. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A 100% guarantee for being in God's will

1Thessalonians 5:18 - 18In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

HOW THANKFULNESS MAKES STAYING IN GOD'S WILL AS EASY AS CANDIED YAMSWith tomorrow being thanksgiving, it is inevitable that before the day ends, my wife's cooking abilities will prove pleasant to my palate.  She makes the best honey glazed turkey you would ever want to eat.  I can even now taste her candied yams with a mountain of marshmellows blanketing the dish.  Things such as these make it easy to remain in the kitchen.  Thankfulness for the temporal pleasures like food points to the thankfulness we find in the goodness of God.  Thankfulness makes it much easier to desire to remain in the revealed will of God.    

HOW TO KNOW GOD'S WILL AND STAY IN GOD'S WILLWhen we gaze upon the goodness of our God, we will discover that staying in His will is a delight, rather than a drudgery.  How often do Christians find themselves wondering what the will of God is for their lives?  Not only that, but how often do you desire to remain in the will of God for your life?  These two questions have a surprisingly easy answer.  In fact, the answer is so simple that the Apostle Paul in the passage above explicitly says: "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."  What is God's will for my life?  How can I ensure that I'm still in His will?  One word: Thankfulness.

THE LINK BETWEEN PLEASURE IN GOD AND THANKFULNESSThe command: "In everything give thanks" in the original language conveys the thought - "Keep on giving thanks".  Thanksgiving in the Bible was a Jewish concept that had to do with how people used their words to express pleasure with a person or object.  The Goodness of God is expressed by the concept of God's Glory.  To not glory (or deem most precious) God is to take away the root of thankfulness.  When I find pleasure in God by grace through faith in Christ, I am glorifying Him in the pleasure I find in Him.  Likewise, as I find more and more pleasure in the Lord, I discover more reasons to glory in Him.  In doing this, I find the true blessing of being guaranteed of being in God's will - by being thankful for Him, and to Him and through Him in all things. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why Boredom is the enemy of thanksgiving

Psalm 136:1 states - "O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever". 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

God's goodness - the source of Christian thanksgiving
There is a disease that is circulating in every home that is detrimental to the Christian walk -boredom.   In the above passages, we see that the motivation for thanksgiving is a command to come and behold the goodness of God.  Every event, every circumstance, is a window through which I can discover the goodness of God in all things.  

The link between thanksgiving and God's goodness
It is only by God's grace that we can see His goodness in all things.   The above two passages are commands.  Clearly whenever God commands us to do anything, the command itself will lie outside our ability unaided by grace.   For every command there is always a provision of grace. 

Why true worship and boredom cannot co-exist in the same heart
Even when people are prone to become apathetic and disconnected, there is still ample reason to see God's goodness, however difficult it may be.  (please compare Romans 8:28)
There is one human expression that is never justified in any circumstance - boredom. When we get "bored", we are assuming that there is no good or benefit to be gleaned from the event or situation.  Boredom is the first step, however passive, in refusing to see the goodness of God. It not only is the enemy of thanksgiving, it is the enemy of worship. Boredom's origin is nothing short of idolatry.

How to declare war on boredom
Whenever I get bored, that indicates that there is an area in my heart where I have set up an idol.  Boredom comes as a result of unmet expectations.  That toy, that television, the thanksgiving meal, lose their perceived goodness because I forget and ultimately refuse to acknowledge that all things come from the Lord.  Boredom is what occurs when I expect a created object to bring the same fulfillment as only God can bring.  This is why boredom is the seed of idolatry.  

As we enter into this season of Thanksgiving, lets declare war on boredom.  Lets not lose sight of the goodness of God.  Lets not forget that in all things, give thanks to Him, for this is His will in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Bible Alone is Sufficient

Isaiah 41:23 Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.

In this final installment on our blog series: "Defining God's Word", we will consider the issue of sufficiency.  We have considered three tests thus far in defining the marks of Divine authorship: inerrancy, infallibility and clarity.  When we consider all three of those headings, they come together under this last heading of sufficiency.  If a book can lead me into all truth, is free from error in all things and is clear in all of its meaning, then it demonstrates the qualities of divine inspiration and thus is sufficient for every rule and standard of faith and practice. 

Again we compare other would-be holy books to the Bible and ask the question: Which is the word of God.  In this final test, we are wanting to know whether or not any of these books are sufficient enough to live by, since Isaiah's final statement here has to do with actually living one's life by God's word in light of eternity. 

The insufficiency of other religious writings
When it comes to the Hindu writings for instance, Hinduism and all other forms of Eastern thought advocate conflicting ideas as part and parcel of understanding the meaning of life.  The concepts of "absolute morality and truth" are not prized in much of Eastern thought, since many versions teach for instance that evil is an illusion, and that we must escape consciousness of ourselves in order to achieve inner illumination. 

Islam claims that one cannot truly know who God ultimately is, even though in much of its teaching it claims to be the fullest revelation of God.  Now which is it?  

Mormons claim that God was once a man like we are, since we someday will be our own gods, having our own planets.  They also, every year, have statements coming from their leadership concerning God's will for their lives.  Jehovah Witnesses have a similar set up.  Even though they claim to believe in the Bible, yet much of what they believe comes from their head quarters in New York called "The Watch Tower and Tract Society."  In many cases, the proof that a religion's book is not the word of God or that a religion has added to or deleated from the scripture is when it has leadership adding statements to supplement already existing documents. 

Even many of the books written today that claim to be written by people that have seen visions of heaven or hell differ in their details.  Furthermore, such books are not authoratative for all people in all ages.  Sufficiency covers so much area that quite frankly - only one book has demonstrated that it alone is sufficient.

Only the Bible is sufficient
When it comes down to it, the Bible alone is sufficient. It alone tells me all I need to know about Heaven, Hell, God, Christ, salvation, man, life, marriage, children, church, government, science, philosophy and everything else.  Though it may not be a specific textbook about science for instance, yet every major assumption upon which science rests (belief in an objective, measurable world; belief in cause and effect) comes straight from the Bible. 

Unlike other would be contenders - the Bible alone tells me that it is not from good behavior that one is made right with God, rather it is by grace alone through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  When I preach on Sunday, I don't bring a commentary (although they are helpful in studying the Bible) nor do I bring anything else.  I have my Bible.  And that is enough. 

I have seen the Bible heal marriages, convert sinners to salvation and prevent people from committing suicide.  I gave just one verse to a friend who owned a small business, and he learned how to run his business from that one verse.  Imagine what would happen if we took to heart the over 31,000 verse in the Bible.  The Bible is sufficient enough to run a church, run a business, talk to your teenager and revolutionize your prayer life.  It is enough. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Bible Alone is Clear

Isaiah 41:23a "Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods;"

Isaiah continues, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to issue the challenge to all other would be claims of Divine authority.  We have looked at other books in comparison to the Bible under the tests of infallibility and inerrancy.  Today we want to consider the test of clarity.  Is the given book clear in its meaning and consistent in its message?

The Miracle of the Bible's Clarity
The Bible is remarkable in the fact it was written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years period of time, living on three different continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and writing in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).  The Bible is composed of 66 smaller volumes called "books" which would had been originally scrolls.  The Bible has its own system of making plain its meaning, since you can take a passage (in context) and use it to shed light on another passage (in context). 

The Methods used in bringing out the Bible's Clarity
Though there are parts of the Bible that can be more difficult to interpret than others, yet the Bible is clear enough to where on major doctrines, there is full clarity of meaning.  The Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God (see previous posts) is meant to be explained (preached or taught).  Whenever it is read, explained or taught, God is said to be speaking (compare John 6:66-70 and 1 Peter 4:11). 

Motives for appreciating the Bible's clarity
No other book has this quality of clarity like the Bible.  The Bible, being clear in its meaning, also makes clear issues that would be otherwise hidden from human understanding.  It alone can pierce into the depths of the human heart and soul (Hebrews 4:12).  Unlike man, who by reason alone cannot even fully comprehend his own heart (Jeremiah 10:23), the scriptures (The Bible) can penetrate the heart and bring about understanding (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:15). 

As much as this quality of the Bible has been under attack in recent years, yet for millennia Godly men and women have been studying and coming away with clarity from God's Word.  it truly is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105). 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Bible Alone is Inerrant

Isaiah 41:22 Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome.  Or announce to us what is coming;

In yesterday's blog we considered the test of infallibility, whereby we are testing to see whether or not a book with the claim of Divine authorship can lead us to an accurate knowledge of truth on any matter.  We saw yesterday that the Bible alone fulfilled this.  Today we want to look at a closely related idea - inerrancy.  If infalliblity has to to with the character of revelation, then inerrancy has to do with the contents - the words of a given text.  In short - are they without error.

Accuracy in all matters past or future
Isaiah mentions "former events" and "outcomes" as criteria for the inerrancy test.  Does the text in question accurately tell you the facts of a past event and can it predict accurately what is yet to be?  The ability to predict the future accurately is the harder of the two tests, since only a supernatural, Divine Mind could ever deliver 100% accurate information about predicted outcomes. 

Fulfilled prophecy as the greatest mark of Divine authorship
According to Isaiah's test, if a given book, claiming to be from God, can accurately predict the future, then it is proof of it being God's word.  The question is, do any religious books contain fulfilled examples of prophecy or prediction?

The Koran, touted by Islam to be God's word, contains not one example of predictive prophecy.  Neither does the Book of Mormon, and its attendant volumes the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants.  The Hindu writings such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-gita does not, neither does the writings of Buddah and Confucius. 

Furthermore, of those organizations that claim to be the voice of God, they at some point have been wrong in their predictions.  The Jehovah Witnesses for instance have wrongly predicted the second coming of Jesus at least three times (1914, 1920's and in the seventies).

Does the Bible have examples of predictive prophecy?
According to studies done by Biblical scholars, there are over 600 general prophecies in the Bible.  Jesus Christ is the subject of 334 of them.  Micah 5:3 for instance predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethelehem Epaphratha.  700 years later, we find in the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke Jesus Christ born in this same town!  Zechariah 9:9, written over 500 years before Jesus, declared that the chosen one, Messiah, would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Jesus does so the week of His crucifixion in the Gospel accounts. 

The most remarkable proof of the Bible's inerrancy
Daniel 9:23-27 tells us that in God's way of reckoning time, from the moment that a decree was issued to rebuild Jerusalem to the cutting off of Messiah would compute to exactly 483 years.  We know that Cyrus, King of Persia, issued such a decree in March of 445 b.c.  The Old Testament Jews counted their years in 360 day periods.  If we multiply 360 days times the 483 year period spoken of in Daniel, we come up with 173,880 days.  If we count those days from Cyrus' decree (spoken of by the way in Ezra 1:2-4) we arrive at the date of April 15, 29 A.D.  That is the exact day when Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross! 

No other book, alleged vision, dream or any other claim to Divine authorship has this mark of inerrancy.  The Bible alone not only has it, but has hundreds of examples wherein it demonstrates its unique quality as God's word. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Bible alone is infallible

Isaiah 41:21 “Present your case,” the LORD says.“Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says.

Yesterday we began a new blog series on evaluating claims made by certain religions as to what is the Word of God.  When a document claims this title, it is claiming to be the very words of God communicated to human beings.  In this first test, infallibility, we are concerned with the character of the given revelation.  Will it lead the reader into truth, or error?  Is it trustworthy?  Questions such as these fit under this idea of infallibility. 

So lets briefly look at some religious books and the Bible, and determine, from Isaiah's first test, which book is the infallible Word of God.  A good test case would be whether or not the given book will accurately lead me to an understanding of the world around me as it pertains to history.

1. The Hindu Upanishads.  In Hinduism, one of the major documents claimed to have a mark of divine revelation is what is termed the "Upanishads".  Hinduism of course is not a uniform system of belief, rather it is more a system of "beliefs".  Whenever we begin to examine these documents, we discover that the universe started off from either an egg, non-being or in another instance, creation begins with a great horse sacrifice.  Clearly this will not lead me to a the truth about origins, since all the accounts are contradictory.

The Bible on the other hand has over sixty different passages spread over 66 books that do not contradict in the least.  Genesis 1 and 2, the chief among those texts, tells of God beginning everything from nothing, speaking all things into existence, investing into the creation laws and life.  The universe was originally created good, but then through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, decay entered, resulting in everything running down.   The other 60 or so creation passages in the Bible match exactly with this basic description. 

Science at its most fundamental level matches this as well.  The universe, according to the laws of thermodynamics, had to have had a beginning.  Furthermore, the 30 or so fundamental laws and mathematical equations describing the universe are so finely tuned that the only explanation could be that a Divine Intelligence is behind the universe's existence.  Lastly, if we deny that the God of the Bible created the Heaven's an the earth, we are left with two other alternatives - either the universe created itself or it is eternally old - neither of which is supported by well established laws of physics.   Thus the Bible leads me to a right knowledge of creation. 

2. The Koran.  The Koran claims that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but rather someone made to look like Him died in his place.  The question is: does this statement lead me to an accurate knowledge of history?  Did Jesus actually die on the cross?  A quick review of non-Christian secular sources written around the time will verify that is was Jesus, as a man, who physically died on the cross.  Secular historians wiritng shortly after Christ's crucifixion, such as Cornelius Tacitus in his "Annals", chapter 15 verse 44, speak of "one Christus, who was put to death in the principate of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate." 

The Bible. Yet all four Gospels in the Bible speak of such an event taking place.  Clearly the Koran cannot be the word of God, since it leads me to an innacurate knowledge of history. 

3. The Book of Mormon.  In the book of Mormon, the story is told of two tribes of indians descended from tje Jews populating North America.  One of those tribes were cursed, and the other blessed.  In the book of Mormon, Jesus Christ supposedly makes various appearances throughout history to these peoples, with the Mormon's founder, Joseph Smith, being the modern day recipient of such revelation.  The only problem with this story is that it has never been verified.  No genetic test, no Genaeological records exist that concusively ties the Indians of North America back to the Jewish people.  Furthermore, there currently exists over six different accounts of how Joseph Smith founded Mormonism back in the early nineteenth century. 

Thus in surveying these other documents, they have failed the first test of infallibility.  The Bible on the other hand, has demonstrated that it leads me to an accurate knowledge of history, science and eternity. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Four Tests for defining God's Word

Isaiah 41:21-23 “Present your case,” the LORD says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,
The King of Jacob says. 22Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place;
As for the former events, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; 23Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.

Many claims to "God's word"
There are at the writing of this blog over 7,000 different religions in the world today.  Almost all of them claim to have the true view of reality, current events and eternity.  Truth by its very nature is exclusive - meaning that once a truth claim is made, anything in conflict with that claim cannot be at the same time true. 

When it comes to claims about certain documents being Divinely inspired or revealed, many of the world's religions claim to have documents of divine origin.  Islam has its Koran, Hinduism has its Upanishads, Buddahism and followers of Confusius and Mormonism have the writings of their founders, and then there is the Bible.  Is there an objective way to measure marks for divine inspiration?  There is.  In the above text such a test is put forth.  In today's blog I am going to briefly outline what these four tests are, and then over the next several blogs submit the Bible and all the other would-be contenders to these tests to answer one simple question: What is the Word of God?

The four marks of the Word of God
When we say the phrase "The Word of God", we are claiming that a particular document was revealed by God, and that He both spoke and is speaking to people through the words of that document.  The above text helps determine whether or not a given claim of revelation is a product of men, or a product of God.  Four tests are given by the prophet Isaiah:

1. Infallibility.  Isaiah writes: "Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place".  Infallibility has to do with giving perfect guidance in all matters, no matter what."  Anytime someone is claiming to speak for God, we have to assess whether or not what they're saying is going to lead us to the truth, or lead us down a road of lies.  Infallibility has to do with the character of the given revelation.  

2. Inerrancy.  Then he states: "As for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider their outcome".  Inerrancy, stated positively, describes a given document being accurate in all matters of science, faith and history.  Stated another way, a document is claimed to be inerrant when it contains no errors.  Does a given text describe the past in perfect, error free- detail?  According to the prophet, this is a crucial test for determining which is the Word of God.  This test deals with the contents of the alleged revelation.

3. Clarity.  Isaiah writes: "That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; 23Declare the things that are going to come afterward, That we may know that you are gods."  Clarity is that quality wherein a document is clear in its explanation and meaning.  When I examine any book claiming Divine authorship, is it consistent and clear, or do I find contradicitions and confusion?  Is there a well-defined meaning in the context of what is written?  Clarity is another test for evaluating claims of Divine authorship.

4. Sufficiency. Then finally, Isaiah notes: "Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together."  Will I be able to take the given document and live by it in every area of my life?  In other words, can I trust what the document says about eternal salvation?  Raising a family?  Working at my job?  Making moral decisions?  Knowing God?  Understanding history, science and every major branch of knowledge?  Only a document that is God's Word can fulfill this criteria.  Frankly this last test can only be passed when the first three have been shown to verify the claims of Divine authorship of a given text. 

In tomorrows blog we will submit different texts and the Bible to the first test of infallibility to determine: Which is the Word of God.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What it means to think biblically

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

What does it mean to think biblically?  If one passage of scripture could be cited to answer this question, the one above would be it.  In the text above we can note the following three comprehensive traits of biblical thinking:

1. Comprehensive Categories.  Eight areas are mentioned by Paul that cover every moral, spiritual and life situation imaginable.  Truth deals with how I make value judgments and honor measures the value of what I judge.  Purity guides my moral devision making and beauty insures proper balance.  Good repute has to do with integrity of character to those who see me and excellence deals with the impression I leave behind.  All of these areas find their chiefest expression in praise - for my whole life is to be a praise offering to the Lord. 

2. Comprehensive Book.  So where does Paul derive these categories? Note what he says next: "The things you learned, received and heard and seen in me".  The Apostle Paul had preached God's Word to these Philippians.  He was clearly writing Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Only one book could qualify in delivering such comprehensive categories - the Word of God.  By its nature it is comprehensive.  It alone can make one wise unto salvation. (2 Timothy 3:15).  It alone contains predictive prophecy and accurate statements of human history, main ideas concerning science and sufficient information to explain the nature of current events in the world today.  

3. Comprehensive living.  So thinking biblically involves comprehensive categories, from the comprehensive book (The Bible) that are to be comprehensively lived out day by day.  Paul writes: "practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."  In the Jewish world (the mindset from whence the scriptures come), the way you demonstrated aquisition of knowledge was by whether or not you lived it out in your life. 

In the biblical worldview, memorization of facts was only half of the total picture.  This is why Paul puts such a premium on "practicing" these biblical categories.  Once I am living out God's word, I have demonstrated that I am thinking biblically.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God's antidote to worry

Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

How often do you worry?  Fret?  Lay awake at night?  The above passage is a perfect prescription for combating chronic worry.  The word translated "anxious" puts in mind someone who keeps remembering again and again what they thought they might had missed or didn't do.  It is a soul that is not at rest - but always in constant activity. 

To be concerned and worried are two different things.  Concern is having an attitude of responsibility for things that I should take care of before its too late.  Worry is trying to take responsibility for things whose outcome I really can't control nor know.  I want to know!  I want to control things!  These statements are the cornerstones of worry.  Worry tries to accomplish them without consideration of God's Sovereign control.

The scripture above gives us the antidote to worry:
1. In everything by prayer.  This is resigning yourself to God's control and breaking free of the tyranny of the urgent.  This is saying that your strength and your effort requires His insight, His power to rush in and guide you through.

2. With supplication.  I heard a preacher one time define supplication as praying the type of prayer that turns you inside out and outside in, resulting in God making you alright.  This is intense prayer.  This is where you do business with God - where He goes from an abstract concept to The Real Person you are relying on for everything.

3. Thanksgiving.  A thankless heart will never be in the position to recognize God's answer. Thankfulness enables you to be open to what God is doing and wants to do.  Why?  Because you are thanking Him for what He has done for you already.

4. Let your requests be made known to God.  Get specific.  Get personal.  That is what God wants.  The need is designed by God to drive you to Him.  How often has your prayer life thrived when everything was comfortable?  It is rare.  More often than not, the Christian-walk seeks the God of Glory when times are dark.  Faith reaches higher when the valley grows deeper. 

Now note the promises that result from taking in this prescription:

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding. Just to know that God has it all taken care of and that He will never leave you nor forsake you is the greatest comfort.  For the text reinforces this thought with a second promise, namely that His peace will guard your heart nad mind in Christ.  When our mind is racing - we need the peace of God in Christ.  When our heart is heavy - we need the peace of Christ to lift it up.  Take this prescription by faith - and watch your worry be replaced by enduring faith that has peace without end.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Confident no matter what

Philippians 4:4-5 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.

What is joy?  In the text that we are reading above, joy refers to the unshakable confidence the Christian has no matter what the circumstances.  What we see written in this text is a command - a command that demands an all-the-time attitude of rejoicing in the Lord.  Now would God command the Christian to do something without the provision of grace to accomplish it?  Absolutely not!  Today I want to begin looking into this incredible chapter of Philippians, for I believe it can lead us to understand what it means to have a joyful Christianity.

So how is it that I can rejoice in the Lord always?  Note the following graceful provisions in these two verses:

1. The scripture.  Paul repeats the command: "again I will say, rejoice".  In writing scripture, and then repeating the text again, Paul is reminding us that what the Holy Spirit is giving him to write is indeed the very provision of grace to fuel our faith-life.  What happens when you are facing that surgery?  Or uncertain of the future of your health?  Or hear news of a loved one being ill?  Or perhaps you are grieving over the loss of a loved one?  Only through regular exposure and taking in of God's word can you have the faith that will be necessary to truly have confidence in the Lord.  This is indeed the source of the fuel of the faith-life. 

2. Fellowship with God.  I get this second provision from the next statement - "Let your gentle spirit".  What is Paul speaking of when he says "spirit".  It is that part of us wherein God the Holy Spirit is pleased to dwell.  When we are walking in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with Him. (1 John 1:7).  Having fellowship, or closeness with God yields peace - one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22). 

Have you ever met anyone who has a quiet gentle spirit?  Whenever we have the Spirit of God at the helm of the ship of our life, no matter what the sea may be like - we have peace of knowing that the God over the storm is also in the ship - and driving the ship of our faith. 

3. The Second Coming of Christ.  Paul ends this verse by this statement: "The Lord is Near".  He is not speaking of the Lord's proximity to us (He speaks of that in other passages).  Rather He is making a brief statement about Christ's second coming.  Now why is that a marvelous provision of grace?  Because it simply means that the course and purpose of history is determined not by sin, nor circumstance, nor people, nor natural disaster - but by the Lord.

If God is in control of the purpose and course of history, then surely He has the throttle of my circumstances.  To rejoice means to have confidence that God is God no matter what.  When I look to His soon return, He's got the future.  When I look at Him indwelling me, I know he's got my emotions and thoughts in His hand.  When I look to His word - I know that I know that I know that no matter what - I can have a joyful, confidence in the Lord. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't give up! Keep praying!

Matthew 7:8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

Reasons why not to give up but to keep on praying
Yesterday we considered Matthew 7:7 and the three different levels of prayer.  If you look at that verse, Jesus is not just laying out guidelines, He is commanding us to pray in accordance to the ask, seek and knock levels.  But now He is switching from commands to pray to certainties of prayer. 

In God's word we find commands.  For every command of scripture there is always at least one provision of grace.  There are promises to claim.  The commands are issued from Jesus due to the fact that grace is required and available to carry out such a prayer-life. 

What enables you not to give up and keep on praying
When we ask, in accordance to God's will, He hears us (1 John 5:14-15).  Scripture warns us of the dangers and futility of asking with the wrong motives - don't expect God to answer! (please compare James 4).  However whenever our desire matches with what God's word lays out to us, we will know how to pray and what to ask for. 

Illustrations of those who did not give up but kept on praying
The same goes for the seeking and knocking levels of the prayer life.  The emphasis in this verse is on the continual nature of the asking, seeking and knocking.  We cannot give up after one or two times.  Too often the child of God grows discouraged after praying once or twice.  What of those saints of God in the scriptures? 

Abraham prayed for 25 years before Isaac was born.  Isaac, when he got married, prayed for 20 years before God opened the barren womb of his wife Rebecca.  As we grow in prayer, we move through those stages - asking,, seeking and knocking.  We also have the chance to grow deeper in God - resulting in us reaching higher with God.  I believe this is why God delays in answering our prayers. God desires us to desire Him.   As one preacher once put it - God's delays are not God's denials. 

Don't Give up! Keep on Praying!
Don't give up! Keep on praying!  As you and I wait for the answer, we all the time are being drawn into and up into the very heart of God Himself.  As Christ does this, we find that the need was created to prompt us so that in the midst of our asking, seeking or knocking, we would learn what it means to have relationship with God the Father.  May the Holy Spirit so teach us what it means to pray with that goal in mind. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A living, breathing prayer-life

Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

In the first of five sermons preached by Jesus in Matthew's Gospel, we find the Lord unfolding for us the purpose and nature of the prayer-life.  In the same sermon (called by many "The Sermon on the Mount") Jesus mentions prayer in this chapter and in the previous.  What we find out about prayer is that there are three different levels of prayer:

Level One: Asking Prayer

This is where many Christians start their prayer-life - in the realm of asking.  When I am asking God for things in prayer, my circumstances shape much of how I pray.  Now in this type of praying, Jesus is not specifying "what we ask for" so much as He is emphasizing "how we ask".  Clearly in this type of praying, how I ask will determine the certainty of whether or not God will grant the request.  I must know His will, that is - His desire, wish or mind on the given matter.  How do I discover that?  His word - the scriptures. When I combine the scriptures with my prayer-life - I'll know exactly what to ask the Father for and how to pray more effectively. 

Level Two: Seeking Prayer

This level of prayer is a little more aggressive.  This is where we begin to cross the threshhold in our prayer life from seeking "things" from God to "seeking God".  As much as burdens still play a role in the shaping of our prayer life, the life of prayer, when seeking God, becomes more interested in meeting Him than in Him meeting the need.  Jesus says: "Seek and you will find".  Notice again, He is not defining what we are seeking, only that when we seek, we will find.  In the same sermon, in the previous chapter, Jesus tells us this in Matthew 6:33 - "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all of these things will be added unto you." So when I seek, I seek after God, and what He wants, and lo and behold whatever I'm praying for, God will show up. (please compare 1 John 5:14-15)

Level Three: Knocking Prayer

In this final level of prayer, we are focusing on a particular purpose with a resolve to hear and commune with God.  "Knocking prayer" is where we want Jesus to open the door.  How often do you hear people talk about "closed or open doors"?  Often they are speaking about opportunities that have come or gone.  But in Jesus' words we find that knocking prayer is where our prayer life has gone from duty to desperation.  Knocking prayer will stop at nothing until the soul has found its rest in the presence of the Lord. (please compare Psalm 73:25).  This is where we only want Him - since it is in God's showing up that our answer is obtained. 

I find Jesus' words here penetrating - since He reveals a living, breathing prayer-life. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Making selfless Godly decisions

1 Corinthians 10:23  All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

In this series we have been exploring important foundations for making Godly decisions.  Thus far we have gleaned the following scriptural principles:

1. Choose based upon what builds up or promotes Christian harmony (Romans 14:19)

2. Choose based upon what will yield the greatest benefit for the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:12a)

3. Choose based upon what will yield to Christ's control, rather than to the control (or mastery) of another person or thing

Today we will look at one last principle: Choose based upon what will spiritually build-up others

Christianity must be self-less if it is going to succeed
Jesus tells us in John 13:35 that the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another.  Putting one another ahead of our own self-interests must be evident if we are going to name the name of Christ.  But there is more.  To say that I am putting others ahead of myself is not enough.  Many non-Christians advocate such an idea.  However this idea must be aimed at a particular purpose.  Only Christianity fulfills this important principle of selflessness by suggesting that the aim is not focusing back upon the person who did the act, but rather pointing to one's love for Christ as the reason.

The difference between "hero-ism" and Christianity
Who doesn't like heroes?  We are living in a day and age where people aim to escape through the idea of heroes.  Heroism is based in the realm of ancient Greece.  The Greeks had four cardinal ideals that they used to mark a hero: courage, self-control, virtue and moral purity.  The Greek culture developed dramas to depict various characters playing out these roles.  Once Greece was conquered by Rome, Rome adapted these ideas to their culture.  Once Rome collapsed, in its wake Europe took up much of these same ideas.  As we are inheritors of this long-standing cultural heritage (more or less), we today still talk about heroes - as seen in movies and books and comic books.  Now heroism is not a bad idea; however it does not adequately describe the selflessness outlined in the Bible.

The scriptures give us three other concepts that distinguish self-less Christianity from mere "heroism" - namely "faith, hope and love".  1 Corinthians 13 and other New Testament scriptures bring out these three important elements that are essential to a self-less Christianity.  Heroism does not go far enough since despite the noble efforts of the hero, the applause goes to man.  Whenever we consider "faith, hope and love", these uniquely Christian traits reveal that selflessness is a "means", with the "praise of Jesus Christ" being the end. 

Base your decision making upon what will increase "faith, hope and love" in others
In order for Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10:23 to be accomplished, we must edify or build up others in these three spiritual virtues.  Whenever I put others ahead of myself in this way, I am evidencing Godly decision making.  Truly the way I know I have made the right decision is when Jesus Christ's presence is seen more clearly by others. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Godly decision making and defeating addictions

1 Corinthians 6:12b All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.

Over the course of the past couple of days we have been discovering the foundation necessary for making godly decisions.  So far we have discovered two such principles as guidelines for godly decision making:

-Choose based upon what builds up or promotes Christian harmony (Romans 14:19)
-Choose based upon what will yield the greatest benefit for the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:12a)

Today we consider the third principle in Godly decision making:
Choose based upon what will not master me

Addictions and the idea of "who is your master?"
Now when we consider things that master us - we enter into the realm of addictive behavior.  We understand that at salvation, Jesus not only becomes our Savior, but also our Lord. (Luke 9:23-24; Romans 10:9).  As Jesus Himself notes, you cannot serve two masters, you will love the one and hate the other, or despise the one and cling to the other, you cannot serve God and money. (please compare Matthew 6:24). 

So for the Christian, the most fundamental question to ask is this: who owns the rights to my life?  Scripture makes it plain that we are not our own, we have been bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20)  Thus no other person, thing or influence should have mastery over me.  As Paul explains in Romans 6:16 - "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?"

All addictions have their beginning in the thought-life
The Holy Spirit states through Paul in Romans 6:14 "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."  Grace is what God does for me that I cannot do for myself.  Grace is given to every believer in Jesus Christ.  Thus when you are dealing with an addiction - you are dealing with a lifestyle that had its root in your thought-life.  Remember this: A thought reaps an action; an action, done repeatedly reaps a habit; a habit done repeatedly reaps a lifestyle; and a lifestyle reaps a destiny.  Now that statement applies postiviely to the things of God, and negatively to addictions. 

The first step to defeating addiction - Deal with "what you don't have to do"
The first step towards defeating an addiction is recognizing that you don't have to do it.  When I am mastered by a controlled substance, or certain lifestyle, or another person, I'm convinced that I have no choice.  Dear friend, if you are a child of God, you can claim the above passage - "I will not be mastered by anything."  Now Paul makes that statement in the realm of lawful things.  However he recognizes that whether they be lawful, or unlawful, being mastered by anything else other than Jesus Christ leads to ruin. 

The second step to defeating addictions - "Understand that you can get out of the addiction"
So if you believe you don't have to be mastered by anything other than Christ, then do you believe that you can get out of that addiction?  This second part is harder than the first.  When Paul makes the statement that he will not be mastered by anything, he is basing that upon the power of God that he has at his disposal.  Every Christian has this  -we call it the scripture.  Philippians 4:13 for instance states - "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength".  Do you believe that?  Say it to yourself, repeatedly.  Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ".  As one preacher friend of mine has said: "There is no chain forged in hell that Jesus can't break".

The third step to defeating addictions - use the scripture to get a hold of your thought-life
In this final step, you have agreed with God that you don't have to be mastered by anything other than Christ.  You have agreed that in Christ, you can get out of that addiction.  But now lets deal with the thought pattern that began it.  All behaviors, all addictions, are rooted in the heart and fed by the mind.  If we can cut off the food supply to that addicition, your heart will change, leading to a change in behavior. 

2 Corinthians 10:5 states - "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."  Again as we take our principle of "choose based upon what will not master me", we look for those thought patterns that are pressing us into the opposite direction of Christ and His word.  By His grace we can control what we think.  We can tell our eyes: "We won't watch this today, rather we'll watch this".  We can tell our ears: "I'm not listening to that, rather I'm going to listen to this".  These are the "gates" to our mind.  Scripture tells us to "be transformed by the renewing of our mind" (Romans 12:1-2).  

Thus this principle, when combined with what we learned from the previous two blogs, gains us entry into a solid foundation for Godly decision making and Christian victory. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Godly Decision making that truly profits

1 Corinthians 6:12a  All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.

Yesterday we began exploring ways in which we can make informed godly decisions in areas that can be deemed debatable areas.  We also discovered that using a principle - a universal standard from God's word that can be applied to specific situations - is the best way to approach decision making.

The first principle we looked at was: Choose according to what builds up and promotes Christian harmony

Today we look at the second principle, gleaned from the text above: "Choose based upon what is the most profitable" 

Choosing what is most profitable in the area of food and drink
I find it interesting that Paul uses food and the area of physical relationships as his test cases for applying this general principle - since it is those areas that many people are challenged with in today's world in the realm of godly decisions.  When it comes to eating or drinking - too often people choose according to their desires, rather than according to what is most profitable or beneficial.  Other scriptures speaks of the Christian's body as "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19).  If Christians looked at themselves not as mere physical beings - but as God's temple - we would change what we take into our bodies, as well as how we use them.

Choosing what is most profitable in the area of physical relationships
Likewise in the realm of physical relationships- the scriptures make it clear that in marriage is found to be of sole benefit to both man and woman as a husband and wife.  Once again, many people will chart their moral course in this area based upon what feels good.  What about what is most beneficial?  Outside of the marriage relationship, physical relationships are frought with emotional and relational problems, as well as medical disease.  Whenever we live in the revealed will of God as it pertains to marriage - we will find that what He deems most beneficial is what leads to the best benefit.

Taking this principle along with the last principle as the building blocks for godly decision-making
Now if we take what we learned today and combine it with our last lesson - choices based upon what builds up and promotes godly peace, we begin to build a solid - biblical foundation for Godly decision making.  For instance - is what I am eating or drinking going to lead to building up and promoting harmony, as well as benefiting others?  If not - then I need to conclude that I can't pursue that course.  Likewise - biblical marriage is the only context in which I can have a relationship wherein the highest benefit is attained for the other person.  Finally, marriage, as biblically followed, will achieve the building up of the other person as God originally planned. 

Tomorrow we will look at the second part of 1 Corinthians 6:12 as we continue in this blog series - "Principles for Godly decision making".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Principles for Godly decision making

Romans 14:19 then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.

What happens when you are faced with a decision that might be considered by some to be a so-called "grey area"?  Now even though I firmly believe in moral absolutes (there being a system of right and wrong that is the same no matter where you are), there can be those situations that many would say are subject for debate.  Debatable areas - such as "Whom should I marry?" or "What school should I attend?" are areas the we need insight from God's word in knowing what to do. 

In the next several blogs I want to point the reader to scriptures that can greatly aid in making decisions that might not always seem obvious.  Whenever we apply scripture, the best method is to discover what we call "principles".  Principles are simply those universal standards that can be readily applied to specific situations.  

In the above text we discover our first pricinple for Godly decision making:

Will this decision build up or tear down others 

Often when we are faced with decisions, we will usually asked: "How will this affect me".  The better starting place, according to this text, should be -- "How will this decision impact others?"  If we aim to make our decisions on the building up of others in Christ, or for the sake of promoting the peace of God in a given situation, this pricinple will helps us sort out the lesser alternatives.

Paul even uses a specific example - what many consider to be a "debateable area" - namely alcohol consumption.  He writes -"It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles."  Will taking that drink lead to a tearing down or building up of others?  Willl it promote more or lesser harmony in my home.  Then in a more personal application - will drinking alcohol or eating certain food help my body or hurt it.  WIll I be left with a clearer mind or a more cloud one?

What we have just done is take a general principle and apply it directly to a specific situation.  According to scripture - it would be far better to abstain, since the outcome will lead to a lesser building up and a lesser promotion of harmony. 

In tomorrow's blog we will consider another passage that gives us further principles for guiding us in our daily decision making.