Monday, August 22, 2016

Study, Obey, Teach - in that order

Let’s look at Ezra 7:10. In case you don’t have this one already memorized, here you go:

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Things to think about:
  • There are three things the prophet Ezra is modeling for us that bear closer examination
    • He studied the Law, he obeyed the Law, and he taught the Law
    • You can’t do right if you don’t know what’s right, and you certainly can’t teach what you don’t live (just ask your kids about that last one!)
  • So let’s start with Study
    • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
      • Notice it doesn’t say the seminary trained pastor may be equipped, but simply “the servant of God”
    • Psalm 119:11-12 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.12 Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.”
    • How is your study time going today? If you’re on a roll, what do you attribute it to? If you’re struggling, what seems to be the barrier?
  • Obey
    • James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
    • 1 Samuel 15:22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
    • Psalm 119:1-2 “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart—“
    • I like how James says to “look intently”. Maybe we would benefit from slowing down and not trying to gulp down too much spiritual food in one sitting (maybe I should reconsider all of the scriptures in this email!)
    • King Saul disqualified himself by trying to pass off “pretty good obedience” as good enough. God says, “Be holy as I am holy”.
    • It is likely that all of us at the table this morning have good intentions and want to follow Jesus. At the same time, it is for sure that all of us fall short of the standard. Even Paul in Romans 7 talks about this “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
      • Do we have to be perfect to be called obedient?
  • Teach
    • Matthew 28:18-20 “ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    • 1 Corinthians 4:1 “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”
    • Are you actively engaged in teach (discipling) anyone today?
    • Is God putting someone in your life that needs to grow in their understanding of who He is and how much He loves them?
  • Which of these three is the hardest for you? Why?

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Red Letter Day

According to the dictionary, a red letter day is "a day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.” But maybe there is a more important meaning to red letters than that. We’ll be looking at the words of Jesus which of course are found in many Bibles in red letters. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed but those words that appear in red letters certainly do seem to carry just a little bit more weight.

I have been reading the Book of Matthew and came to the famous Sermon on the Mount in beginning in chapter 5 .  There,  Jesus is expanding on what the listeners had traditionally been taught as “the Law”. He says that He did not come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it.  And yet, He holds out an even higher standard to His listeners than what was already unattainable. Whether it is murder versus anger, adultery versus lust, or loving friends versus enemies, there are many teachings He presents that are hard to come to grips with. But if it is in red letters then it comes from the highest authority and is therefore non-negotiable,  and as a follower of Christ it must be for me.

Things to think about:

  • There are six variations on the Law Jesus identifies:
    • Murder, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, Eye for Eye, Loving Enemies
    • let’s read each one
  • Which of the six areas of contrast is most challenging for you intellectually, spiritually, or practically?
    • why did you pick that one?
  • The Pharisees were the “ruling party” at the time and they placed a great emphasis on the appearance of keeping the law
  • What is the distinction Jesus is making with topics like murder/anger, adultery/lust, etc.?
    • why does our attitude matter to Him and not just our actions?
  • Traps to avoid - Relativism, Religiosity, Rationalization
    • Relativism would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those outside of the church - “well, this is way better than what unbelievers are doing."
    • Religiosity would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those within the church - “well, I’m keeping the letter of the law (sort of)” or “this will look good to those who know what I’m supposed to be doing."
    • Rationalization would be comparing our attitudes and actions to ourselves - “well, it may not be perfect but it’s better than what I was doing.” or “God knows how I am and He knows I just can’t help it.”
      • are one or more of these excuses that might ring a little too true??
  • God has given us several tools to become the men He would have us be:
    • His Word to teach us
    • His Son to show us
    • His Spirit to help us
    • His Church to encourage us
  • May today be a red letter day for each of us as we take to heart the words Jesus has spoken so that we can continue to grow in His likeness 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Leading Lives of Quiet Aspiration

If you go on one of the famous life coaches’ web sites like Tony Robbins, you will see lots of advice for maximizing your personal success. In fact, for a fee of $650 - $3,000 you can learn about “Unleashing the Power Within”, "Life and Wealth Mastery”, and your “Date with Destiny”.  This is all about living big, living bold, and being exceptional. I’m not suggesting there isn’t merit in some of the curriculum but what does one of God’s life coaches, the Apostle Paul, say we should aspire to? 

In 1 Thessalonians 11-12 we are given encouragement of another kind:

11make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Things to think about:

  • Well, that doesn’t sound very spectacular or world changing! In fact, in 21st century America “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” sounds like giving up.  Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. So a quiet life is a desperate life?
    • what does being ambitious mean to you? Do you have a different definition professionally versus personally?
    • what is your ambition? Have you ever articulated it to someone else?
  • What is a quiet life?
    • does that mean we should be disengaged or passive? why or why not?
    • in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” and “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
    • How does a Type A person in our culture lead a quiet life?
  • “You should mind your own business”
    • In what ways do we not mind our own business?
    • when should we get involved?
    • why is gossiping so malignant?
    • Apparently Paul had some lazy folks on Thessalonica who weren't working but were busy being busybodies.  2 Thessalonians 3:11, " we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”
  • Work with your hands
    • I thought I went to college so I wouldn’t have to work with my hands! 
    • Paul gives great nobility here to old fashioned hard work.
    • The idea here I believe is that diligent work, of whatever kind, is honoring to God. 
      • Colossians 3:23-24, "23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. "
  • God’s kingdom is built by men and women who lead quiet lives, working honestly and humbly
    • people in your sphere of influence are watching you
    • when we profess to be followers of Jesus, our lives go under the microscope of all the others who make the same claim and haven’t lived up to the standard
    • when folks outside of God’s family see genuine humility, coupled with honest work, it is winsome and respectable
    • when done well, we can be a blessing and not burden on others

Monday, August 1, 2016

My Friend, the Attorney

Let’s look at Job 9:32-35. Of course, Job is in the throes of having had everything stripped away from him and his friends are telling him it’s probably because he is a sinner and God is punishing him. Job is making a defense for himself but realizes that going mano a mano with God isn’t a great strategy.  Our passage below picks up the story.  The key verse I’d like to highlight is 33, “If only there was someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together”.

“He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
    that we might confront each other in court.
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,
    so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,
    but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

Things to think about:
·       When things aren’t going our way, a very natural tendency is to try and figure out, “What did I do to deserve this?” 
o   Sometimes this may be true, as bad decisions generally reap bad consequences.
o   We may have others encouraging this line of thinking
o   Other times though, we don’t really have the capacity to see the bigger picture. See John 9:2
o   Can you think of a particularly trying time when faith in God gave way to self-doubt?
·       While he was once a very rich and powerful man, Job realizes here that he isn’t dealing with just another man, but God Himself
o   As a result, he is not up to the task to confront God directly
o   In a court of law, we do not rely on our own skills to obtain a favorable verdict, but rather we enlist the help of a trained and experienced intercessor
§  When we do act as our own lawyer with God, what evidence do we typically bring forward?
o   See Job 16:19-21. Twice his advocate is called “friend”
·       The obvious parallel is Jesus as our mediator, see 1 Timothy 2:5
o   Bringing together two thoughts, Jesus as our mediator, and from the verse above, He is our friend, then we realize that we are not just another case on the docket for the public defender, but a dear and precious friend who is in desperate straits
o   Moreover, not only does He intercede for us, but He goes way beyond that and does what no attorney would do: He says “Free my friend, I will take his punishment Myself.”
·       Job closes by saying that if there was such a Mediator, he would speak up without fear
o   Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
o   Are we living in the reality that of our standing as sons, no longer slaves to fear?

Monday, July 25, 2016

3 Steps to Being a Better Dad

11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Things to think about:

  • The metaphor of fatherhood is pervasive in the Bible.  Abraham is the father of a nation, earthly fathers are regularly referenced, and of course God the Father is front and center.
    • Here, Paul says that he has dealt with the believers in Thessalonica as a father deals with his children
  • Many struggle to conjure up a positive image of God because of our past and our earthly fathers.  For others, they were blessed with a very positive model.
    • What characteristics or traits would you use to describe your father?
  • In our passage, we see three qualities that Paul highlights as those of a good father - encouraging, comforting, and urging to live lives worthy of God. Let’s look at each one in a bit more detail.
  • Encouraging 
    • A child is always encountering new challenges, new things they’ve never tried, as well as the occasional stumble. Encouraging means to “give heart”. Oftentimes we don’t believe we can do something because it seems too hard or daunting. When we encourage our children it tells them that we believe in them so they can believe in themselves.
      • can you think of a time when your father (or other significant man in your life) encouraged you? How did it help you rise to the occasion?
      • How does your Heavenly Father encourage you?
  • Comfort
    • We all need to be comforted because life is hard and comes with its share of hurts and disappointments. While a mother’s touch is gentle and soft, a father’s strong hand helps revive and strengthen.
      • can you think of a time when your father (or other significant man in your life) comforted you? How did it rebuild your strength to carry on?
      • How does your Heavenly Father comfort you?
  • Urging to live a life worthy of God
    • A few verses before our passage, Paul says in verse 6 that he wasn’t trying to please man but God. He goes on to say he wasn’t seeking the praise of anyone. We all urge our children to do well in school, “stay out of trouble”, to be kind to others.   And these are good things. Yet are we urging them to aspire to please God? Our salvation came at the highest price. Moreover, we have been adopted as sons of the King and need to live lives that reflect accordingly on our Heavenly Father.
      • can you think of a time when your father (or other significant man in your life) urged you to live a life worthy of God?
      • How is your Heavenly Father urging you to live a life worth of Him?
  • What takeaway do you have from today’s lesson that you want to bring to your children?

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Secret to Being Happy

If I told you I had the secret to being happy, there’s a good chance you would want to know it.  I just did a Google search on “secret to being happy” and got 122MM hits so apparently I’m not the only one wondering about this! The good news is we don’t have to go to Google looking for happiness, we can go to God.  In His word, we find in Philippians 4:11-13 the following from the Apostle Paul:

...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Things to think about:

  • From a material perspective, we all live in relative “plenty” and are well fed, so why aren’t we content?
    • The Bible says it has to do with our perceived unmet needs and/or our felt inadequacies
  • What are sources of discontent for you?
    • relationships, money, material goods, your career, regrets, approval of others, your spiritual maturity, something else?
    • how do these things create stress in your life?
    • how do you tend to address or cope with your stress?
  • Our verse says “in any and every situation”.  What are you dealing with that isn’t covered by "any and every"?
  • So the “secret” is “through Him who gives me strength”
    • what are the barriers to letting Jesus be your source of strength?
    • How hard is it for you to say “I can’t”?
  • So how do we activate the power readily available to us?
    • 2 Corinthians 12:9 - But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.
    • Colossians 1:11 -  "being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience"
    • John 15:5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
    • Hebrews 13:6 - So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid."
  • So there you have it, the secret to being happy!
    • May God grant us the grace and revelation to live in the peace that He has freely given to us.  May we not believe the lies that we need more or that we aren’t good enough. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Horses and Legs

The urge to strive and try harder can be unrelenting. We live in a performance-oriented culture and in the business world it is especially that way.  When the result is good, we might be tempted to take great pride in our cleverness, experience, hard work, etc. When the result is not what we (or someone else) expects it to be, we look for more resources and try harder.  While I think it is biblical to be diligent about whatever one puts his hand to (Colossians 3:23  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters), God is most definitely not pleased with our self-sufficiency (either accumulated resources or our own personal assets)

Psalm 147:10-11

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Things to think about:

  • Are you wrestling with a goal or objective that is not being attained in the way you or someone else would hope?
    • Is your tendency to double down or to give up?
  • Have you recently had a big “win” ?
    • did you reflect the glory back to God or bask in it yourself?
    • we all know the right answer but in your heart of hearts, how did you react?
  • In the Old World, armies won wars on the backs of strong horses
    • What are some things in our more modern world that might be classified as “the strength of the horse”
  • Another vital asset in winning a struggle was the physical strength of the warrior
    • What are some of your qualities that might be “the legs of the warrior”?
  • We can probably agree that neither the horse or the mighty warrior are bad in their own regard so why is God not take pleased or delighted in them?
  • We can even move beyond pursuits like work or other achievements to any challenge that requires resources
    • if we or a loved one fall ill, we want to go to the best doctor at the best hospital to get the best care.  Nothing wrong with that but can that turn into putting our faith in horses and men?
  • We looked a few weeks ago at Hebrews 13:5-6
    • “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
  • the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
    • Ultimately it comes down to who we are looking to for our security. If we look to ourselves and our stuff, God is not pleased.
    • When we Trust in the Lord with all of our hearts and lean not on our understanding, He will make our paths straight.
  • What challenge are you going through that it’s time to turn over to Him?