truth

Real Harmony

Photo credit: lightstock.com So those of us who have a strong ⌊faith⌋ must be patient with the weaknesses of those whose ⌊faith⌋ is not so strong. We must not think only of ourselves. We should all be concerned about our neighbor and the good things that will build his faith.

Christ did not think only of himself. Rather, as Scripture says, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Everything written long ago was written to teach us so that we would have confidence through the endurance and encouragement which the Scriptures give us.

May God, who gives you this endurance and encouragement, allow you to live in harmony with each other by following the example of Christ Jesus. Then, having the same goal, you will praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God.  (‭Romans‬ ‭15:‭1-7‬ (GW)


It's easy to overanalyze things. Action item lists are popular and success formulas are sought by many. A lot of time is invested to figure out what makes one thing successful where another one fails.

In doing this, we tend to overlook what's obvious and simple. The realm of spiritual truth is no different. The secret to unity among believers doesn't require psychological tests or deep theological treatises.

First, we need to be patient with others who don't measure up spiritually to our expectations (verses 1-3), and learn from the example of faithful believers before us (verse 4).

But the most important thing is to follow the example of Jesus together (verse 5). We need to accept one another as Jesus accepted us (verse 7).

Think about it. That may seem a tall order, but the simple focus is Jesus—His gracious, humble example.

The key to real harmony among followers of Jesus is treating one another with the gracious humility we see in Jesus. ©Word-Strong_2016

GMO-Free Community (part 1)

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JChillingsworth In the last few years you have probably noticed the buzz around "organic community." Yet, are we all on the same page with the definition of that phrase?

What do I mean by "organic community"?

Here are a few of my thoughts on what it means.

Organic Gardening

When we read through the scriptures we find many examples of how physical gardening reveals spiritual truth.

The Psalms compare a man to a tree planted by water. Jesus often used gardening when He spoke in parables. It is very natural for us to see spiritual truth in physical things or circumstances.

To have an organic garden you must start with organic seed. The seed needs to be free of all human tampering.

To spare you from information overload, some seed is genetically modified by scientists. We often see packages of food with labels stating that it is GMO-free.

GMO or GMO-free?

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) do have an advantage. They are protected from attack from outside threats like bugs, weather, and even help food last longer.

Yet, GMO seed produces food that may be dangerous to our health. Many times we a utopian type of community. We must understand that organic seed is bigger than us.

Organic seed has a beginning with a Creator. It has an origin we can't take credit for, but it's planted in a garden we are called to nurture. To keep an organic garden growing and living, effort and intentionality must be put forth.

If the garden isn't tended, the garden dies. Everything organic has risk and reward. To have organic community we must realize the bigger than us source, and be very intentional in our nurturing.

Organic community

Organic community is a body of diverse, yet committed people.

Diversity within a group of people requires intentionality. Humans tend to come together based on similarities. That's normal. That's why we having sayings like, "Birds of a feather flock together."

The danger of being in a community based on similarities of interests, hobbies, nationalities, or race, is it tends to turn into more of a social club than community.

To experience the fullness of community we must risk and expect a level of discomfort due to difference. From that, we will reap the fruits of fullness, ability to love on a deeper level, and have a bigger picture of life.

Do you want organic community?

I am glad to see and hear the buzz about organic community. May all this buzz and desire turn into intentionality to tend the organic garden of community.

Forget about formulas and methods. Focus on the Seed which is Christ Himself.

What do you see Jesus doing?

What is he blessing?

What is he building?

What is he loving?

Now go out and plug into that.


This is a guest post by Sergei Kutrovski whom I've worked with the past few years teaching and training others in discipleship and Inductive Bible Study. You can see more of his posts at — http://kutrovski.wordpress.com/

Justice Is Driven Back

unsplash-starrynight_man_light_JSewell If you love the truth and value honesty, lies and injustice should prompt anger to rise up in your heart.

But if you value deception when it's expedient to your cause, whatever it might be, your heart will swell up with pride.

When truth is mocked and integrity of character is set aside, judgment is not far behind. But what, if anything, can you do about it?

Nothing new

Deception is nothing new. It's as old as...well, humanity. The first humans on earth started the ball rolling, but had some help disseminating deception.

In the Garden of Eden, he came as a clever serpent (Gen 3:1), he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11), and Jesus called him the father of lies (John 8:44).

Deception, injustice, and evil will continue to be with us until the Lord returns and settles things His way. But how are we who trust in the Lord to deal with blatant deception and injustice?

[bctt tweet="How should we deal with blatant deception and injustice?" username="tkbeyond"]

It's a challenge to live our daily lives, raise a family, and live a life of integrity when deception and injustice seem to prevail. How do we respond when leaders prove to be untrustworthy?

After the justifiable anger rises up and before it boils over, we need to consider how to respond in both wise and practical ways.

The dilemma

Moral and ethical darkness are not new in the world. Corruption, injustice, and oppression by governments is common throughout history.

This doesn't mean we just tolerate it or dismiss it. The gravitational pull created by the black hole of corrupt and oppressive leaders suck life and hope out of people's lives. Both the innocent and the righteous are impacted.

When Israel was plunged into moral and spiritual darkness by their own unfaithfulness, God rebuked them—

Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter.

Honesty has disappeared; the one who tries to avoid evil is robbed.

The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. (Isaiah 59:14-15)

The inevitable question comes, "Why doesn't God do something about it? Doesn't He care?!"

God does care! He has intervened over the centuries and personally intervened when He came as the Word of God in human form (John 1:1, 14).

[bctt tweet="God cared & intervened to help His people many times, even in person through His Son" username="tkbeyond"]

A resolution

What are we to do? Is there something we can do? There is.

He sees that there’s no one to help. He’s astounded that there’s no one to intercede. [italics mine]
So with his own power he wins a victory. His righteousness supports him. (Isaiah 59:16)

The prophet declares that God is astonished no one is interceding on behalf of Israel in their moral and spiritual darkness.

The dictionary describes an intercessor as someone who steps in on behalf of another to plead for them. Who was God expecting to intercede? The spiritual leaders of Israel.

Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action.

[bctt tweet=" Prayer is not a last resort, but our first and best action" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercessory prayer may seem passive, even weak, but it's far from that. Jesus is often shown praying before significant events throughout the gospel narratives. Intercession was vital and key to the church's survival and growth in the book of Acts.

Standing in the gap

God's concern for an intercessor is echoed by the prophet Ezekiel—

So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezek 22:30 NKJV)

Where are the intercessors now? Nations all over the world are in turmoil and need intercessors—people who will "stand in the gap" and plead for their nation and people.

[bctt tweet="Where are the intercessors who will stand in the gap for their nation?" username="tkbeyond"]

Intercession requires commitment and consistent faithfulness when others give up in the face of adversity, and when it seems nothing is changing for the good.

Standing firm

When God saw no one who interceded for the nation, He stepped up to do so—

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17)

The figurative phrases in this text are similar to what the apostle Paul said to believers facing the oppressive Roman Empire—

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph 6:13)

The larger context of this verse describes this armor of God in detail, with the list concluding with prayer, intercessory prayer (Eph 6:10-18).

This is what we can do, and how we are to respond when deception, evil, and darkness seem to prevail. Even if you're not a recognized leader, you can lead as an intercessor.

[bctt tweet="If you want to stand firm in hard times, prayer is vital, including intercessory prayer" username="tkbeyond"]

Doers, not just hearers

Jesus said those who hear His words and put them into practice will stand firm, like a house built on a rock (Matt 7:24-27).

No human leader can solve the world's woes. Clamoring for justice won't bring resolve. Putting hope in such things is like building a house on the sand. When storms come—and they will—these hopes will crumble.

When the world tumbles with turmoil and what once seemed secure is shaken, we need a solid foundation to stand firm in the midst of it all.

Knowing the truth isn't enough. Each believer needs to be a doer, not just a hearer of truth (John 13:17; James 1:22).

[bctt tweet="Knowing the truth isn't enough—we need to be doers, not just hearers of truth" username="tkbeyond"]

We need to engage in a wise and practical way. God's choice and direction is intercession, not mere protest, and certainly not empty rhetoric.

We need to live out the truth day-to-day, even when others around us abandon it.

We need to appeal to the One who alone is able and who will bring true justice and righteousness.


How will you respond when truth is mocked and integrity is shunned?


If this post is of value and encouragement to you—please share it with others... thanks!

Mercy and Faithfulness

Photo credit: lightstock.com

It use to be that you could easily tell the good guys from the bad ones. In older western movies, the good guys wore white hats.

But the public image is not always the private reality. Nowadays, image and branding have become an important industry. Much emphasis is put on projecting the right public persona.

No matter how a person appears on the outside, the heart of a person reveals their true self. God is far more concerned with the heart of a person than their image. If we're wise, we ought to be as well.

Scripture

For the choir director; by David, the Lord’s servant.

There is an inspired truth about the wicked person who has rebellion in the depths of his heart: He is not terrified of God.

He flatters himself and does not hate or ⌊even⌋ recognize his guilt. The words from his mouth are ⌊nothing but⌋ trouble and deception.

He has stopped doing what is wise and good. He invents trouble while lying on his bed and chooses to go the wrong direction. He does not reject evil. [vss 1-4]

O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the deep ocean. You save people and animals, O Lord.

Your mercy is so precious, O God, that Adam’s descendants take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are refreshed with the rich foods in your house, and you make them drink from the river of your pleasure. 

Indeed, the fountain of life is with you. In your light we see light. [vss 5-9]

Continue to show your mercy to those who know you and your righteousness to those whose motives are decent.

Do not let the feet of arrogant people step on me or the hands of wicked people push me away.  Look at the troublemakers who have fallen. They have been pushed down and are unable to stand up again. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 36:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 36]

Key phrase— O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies

[bctt tweet="O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the "wicked person" characterized? What does this person do and not do?

How do all these descriptions reveal the core problem of someone who is wicked?

How is the Lord described in contrast to the wicked? How do the images used make these descriptions more vivid and memorable?

What are the benefits for those who are not in rebellion, but trust in the Lord?

Reflection...

Most people have difficulty with faith in God, because He's not readily visible. We want to see Him to believe in Him. One of Jesus' followers, Thomas, was of the same mindset (John 20:25).

Yet, many things are accepted and believed in that aren't visible, such as thoughts or gravity. Thoughts are made known through words, and we all experience the effects and impact of the earth's gravity.

Faith in God is similar. We know about God through the words and experiences of others, but also the intelligent design of the natural world (creation).

In a similar way, a person's heart is revealed by their words and actions. This is true for each of us and in relation to one another.

When we find ourselves filled with pride and deception without a sense of guilt, it's time to change the direction of our life. This often requires God helping us change our heart to make wiser choices.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What is your typical response to flattery (of any kind), deception, and wrong-doing?

How do you handle guilt? Do you learn from it or ignore it?

Are you aware of and appreciate God's great mercy and faithfulness?

Do you have a healthy respect for God's power and righteousness?


Here's a link to a favorite song of ours taken from Psalm 36– Your Love Oh Lord (but skip the ad ;-)


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Taste and See

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Personal experience is powerful. It speaks louder than suppositions and theory. Everyone may be entitled to their opinion, but it doesn't make it true or right. Experience has a way of exposing half-truths and falsehoods.

At one point in history, leading scientists and thinkers believed the world was flat. If a person were to sail a ship towards the horizon, they thought the ship would fall off the edge of the world.

These leaders were proven wrong by the experience of the early explorers, who sailed beyond the horizon and lived to tell about it.

Scripture

By David when he pretended to be insane in the presence of Abimelech; Abimelech threw him out, so David left.

I will thank the Lord at all times. My mouth will always praise him. My soul will boast about the Lord. Those who are oppressed will hear it and rejoice. Praise the Lord’s greatness with me. Let us highly honor his name together.

I went to the Lord for help. He answered me and rescued me from all my fears. All who look to him will be radiant. Their faces will never be covered with shame. Here is a poor man who called out. The Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. [vss 1-6]

The Messenger of the Lord camps around those who fear him, and he rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you holy people who belong to him. Those who fear him are never in need. Young lions go hungry and may starve, but those who seek the Lord’s help have all the good things they need.

Come, children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you wants a full life? Who would like to live long enough to enjoy good things? Keep your tongue from saying evil things and your lips from speaking deceitful things. Turn away from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it! [vss 7-14]

The Lord’s eyes are on righteous people. His ears hear their cry for help. The Lord confronts those who do evil in order to wipe out all memory of them from the earth. ⌊Righteous people⌋ cry out. The Lord hears and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to those whose hearts are humble. He saves those whose spirits are crushed.

The righteous person has many troubles, but the Lord rescues him from all of them. The Lord guards all of his bones. Not one of them is broken. Evil will kill wicked people, and those who hate righteous people will be condemned. The Lord protects the souls of his servants. All who take refuge in him will never be condemned. [vss 15-22]

(Psalm 34:1-22 GW) [Context– Psalm 34]

Key phrase— Taste and see that the Lord is good—Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him

[bctt tweet="Taste and see that the Lord is good—Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

Why is King David thankful to the Lord? How does he express this gratitude?

What is David's encouragement about the Messenger of the Lord? What are his exhortations concerning the fear of the Lord?

How does the Lord relate to those who are righteous and humble? How does He deal with those who are evil?

What are the promises and assurances given throughout this psalm for those who trust God?

Reflection...

The fear of the Lord is often misunderstood. At times it's minimized as respect, but it's more than that. Some people view it as something negative.

This psalm gives some good insight into the fear of the Lord. It's based on experiential relationship with God, a relationship built on trust.

It includes gratitude and awareness of God's goodness and faithfulness. It motivates a person to walk in the light of God's truth, so we honor Him and become a reflection of His nature.

Does the fear of the Lord involve respect? Yes, but it's a recognition and acceptance of who God is and of His power and might and holiness.

Great blessing comes with fearing the Lord in a right way, but there's a great cost for those who choose not to humble themselves before God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

When you face troubles in life—Do you cry out to God with a thankful heart or only questions?

Have you learned the difference between an anxious fear and the fear of the Lord?

Have you experienced the blessings in life that the fear of the Lord brings?

In what ways have you experienced God's goodness when you've looked to Him as your refuge?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Obedience and the Government

Photo credit: lightstock.com Every person should obey the government in power. No government would exist if it hadn’t been established by God. The governments which exist have been put in place by God.

Therefore, whoever resists the government opposes what God has established. Those who resist will bring punishment on themselves.

People who do what is right don’t have to be afraid of the government. But people who do what is wrong should be afraid of it.

Do what is right, and it will praise you. The government is God’s servant working for your good.

But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid. The government has the right to carry out the death sentence. It is God’s servant, an avenger to execute God’s anger on anyone who does what is wrong.

Therefore, it is necessary for you to obey, not only because you’re afraid of God’s anger but also because of your own conscience. That is also why you pay your taxes. People in the government are God’s servants while they do the work he has given them.

Pay everyone whatever you owe them. If you owe taxes, pay them. If you owe tolls, pay them. If you owe someone respect, respect that person. If you owe someone honor, honor that person. (‭Romans‬ ‭13:1-7‬ (GW)


It takes faith to see beyond what everyone else sees. Spiritual insight is needed to think beyond the restrictions of opinion, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Paul wrote these words [by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)] while living under the oppressive government of the Roman Empire. The emperor was Nero, a twisted, perverted, and evil man.

I've lived and worked under a foreign government and visited countries with oppressive governments. When I hear the emotional rhetoric of the day, I see it for what it is—empty words, void of truth.

Men of faith, such as Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, lived and served the Lord under powerful and oppressive governments. They, as Paul, understood that all governments are subject to God, for He's the one who is sovereign over all.

Do what is right and true and good—including paying taxes—and trust God. He is the One to whom we are ultimately accountable. ©Word-Strong_2016

[bctt tweet="Love never does anything that is harmful to a neighbor" username="tkbeyond"]


Here's a tweet I saw last week that rings true and is in line with this text in Romans 13—

A similar theme to this text in Romans 13 is also found in my recent post— Independent or Dependent?

Authenticity

Photo credit: lightstock.com Love sincerely. Hate evil. Hold on to what is good. Be devoted to each other like a loving family. Excel in showing respect for each other. Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord.

Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭9-16‬ (GW)


At present, authenticity is highly valued in our culture. It's become a popular value connected to relationships, experiences, even to sell products.

As with so many things, words take on different meanings as culture changes. Current American culture tends to view things through an individualistic and relativistic lens. In other words, we frame things the way we want to see them.

Paul enumerates several ways Christian believers are to be authentic—real, genuine, reliable, true, and trustworthy. He begins with love for others, moral honesty, and true commitment to whatever we do, regardless of our circumstances.

The last few admonitions describe godly tolerance—tolerance from God's point of view. This includes blessing, not cursing, those who oppose us and humility instead of arrogance. All of these reflect the nature of Jesus.

Paul reminds us to not lose our focus on who we are within a world in rebellion towards God. We are to reflect the very nature of Jesus whom we claim to follow. He is gentle, humble, and full of grace and truth (Matt 11:29; John 1:14). ©Word-Strong_2016

How good is good?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_LMichael

Ask people if they'll go to heaven after they die and many will say, "Yes." If asked why, they often say something like, "Because I'm a good person, and I try to do good."

It's just possible that, much of the time, a person may look pretty good in comparison to some others. But other comparisons are not so favorable.

Ask Christians how to please God, and you're likely to get a similar answer. But how good is good?

The problem of comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort. Though you may find favorable ones, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

[bctt tweet=" Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort" username="tkbeyond"]

Of course, when we compare ourselves with God, we lose every time. Think not? Try comparing yourself to Jesus, the Son of God. It shouldn't take long to see your dilemma.

A common Christian test is inserting your name in place of "love" in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We're told by the Bible, mentors, psychologists, and talk-show hosts, not to compare ourselves with others. But try as we may, we still make comparisons to see how we measure up.

"Am I better looking than... smarter than... thinner than... kinder than...?" And on it goes. We seem powerless to stop it. As the apostle points out, it's an unwise thing to do.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Co 10:12 NIV)

Trying to measure up

Not long ago, I did a home inspection that had height measurements marked off with dates on a wall. This helps answer the question, "Am I growing taller?"

But how do we measure ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth? If we compare ourselves to others, it's only a matter of time before we don't measure up in some way.

Trying to measure ourselves on the basis of behavior or habits, or any similar metric, is also futile. Why? Because we're using the wrong metric.

Evaluating a person's moral behavior is not a measurement of their spiritual growth. As the common saying goes—it's like comparing apples to oranges. Morality is based on performance, while spiritual growth can only be measured by eternal qualities.

So, how do we determine spiritual growth? Perhaps a better question is, why do we need to measure it at all?

[bctt tweet=" Why do we need to measure spiritual growth at all?" username="tkbeyond"]

Beyond our reach

A young, wealthy man came to Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good teacher (rabbi)..." (Mark 10:17-25).

Jesus asked back, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 NIV).

True goodness is out of reach for us mere mortals. It is an eternal quality.

So, should we just give up on all of this? Yes and no.

We need to give up measuring and comparing ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth. But we need spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the indicator we have that spiritual life is going on within us, but how do we gauge it?

In the story with the young wealthy man, Jesus instructs him to leave all his wealth to become one of His followers. This young man claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood.

Jesus didn't debate Him on this, but went to the core of what the man trusted in—himself and his wealth.

Even if we claim to be righteous in a moral sense, we still fall short of God's goodness (Rom 3:10-12).

Some good news

Thankfully, no one needs to obtain moral perfection to gain entrance into God's presence. Jesus did this with His life on earth and through the cross—His death and resurrection (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:11-14; 10:10). This message of redemption (the gospel) is echoed throughout the Scriptures.

But... how do we know if we're growing spiritually?

As pointed out before, we don't need to measure spiritual growth, but we need to grow spiritually. But, how can we tell if it's happening?

The answer is pretty simple. If we go back to the story of the young rich man (Mark 10:17-25), we see what Jesus said to him—to sell all he had and follow Jesus.

Many messages based on this story focus on what the man was to give up, but this misses the main point. Jesus was inviting this young man into relationship.

When we enter into a genuine relationship with God, spiritual growth comes naturally (John 15:5-8).

[bctt tweet="When we are in relationship with God it will be obvious to others" username="tkbeyond"]

We don't need to make comparisons, we need to continue in a personal, fruitful relationship with Jesus—the Vine (John 15:1). Then our spiritual growth will be natural and evident, even to others.


This is a revision of an earlier post a couple of years ago, as a follow-up to last week's post—What Does It Mean to Flourish?

On the Right Path

unsplash-paths_forest_JLelie A favorite memory from our life in the Philippines is snorkeling at Apo Island—drifting across the colorful beds of coral reefs and watching a kaleidoscope of tropical fish darting in and out. It’s a tranquil and yet stunning setting.

Apo Island sits out in a shipping channel and has deceptively strong currents. Divers have been lost because of those currents and snorkelers have drifted far from where they started.

It’s easy to get caught in a current when your attention is fixed on the lovely, lively scene below the water’s surface. Life in this world is like that. We get so absorbed in what captures our attention that we don’t realize the drift in our life. It doesn’t take long before we’re trapped in the cultural tide swirling around us.

Resisting the cultural pull

When our relationship with God is spiritually healthy, we can resist the cultural pull around us. But this requires diligence on our part. We must be alert and aware.

[bctt tweet="A spiritually healthy relationship with God helps us resist cultural pull" username="tkbeyond"]

Psalm 1:1 reminds us of the slippery slope of the world’s culture. We can see a word picture in the text—a literal progression from walking to standing to sitting. How does it happen? It’s seductive. It’s subtle, yet strong.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.—Psalm 1:1 (NKJV)

When we look to the advice of others, the still small voice of God can be drowned out. He calls us away from the crowd to Himself. He doesn’t demand our attention, nor does He shout at us.

The path of deception

When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical. God’s words of truth may appear weak compared to the brash opinions of others. Soon, we may find ourselves on the wrong path.

Not too far down that path, cynicism grips our heart. We find ourselves seated among those who scoff at what we once held dear . . . and what once held us secure.

[bctt tweet="When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical" username="tkbeyond"]

Be careful what you listen to, it doesn’t take much to get sidetracked. Watch where you’re going. The way may seem right at first, but it could lead you in the wrong direction.

Finally, take time to consider your closest companions. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).

Digging deeper for a personal application in your life—

  1. Who and what has the most influence in your life? This is easily determined by what grabs and holds your attention.
  2. How much time per day do you spend listening to the opinion of others? Does the Lord get equal or greater time?
  3. Make a commitment to track what most often captures your attention. Then, be willing to make changes as needed.

This was originally posted as a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. You can read it here— On the Right Path

How I Got Theology– Part 2

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JErondu Leadership is often described as influence. Several heavyweight leaders say these terms are interchangeable. I don't see it that way.

Yes, leaders can be quite influential in both good and bad ways, but this is not a given. I've seen people in leadership roles with little to no influence. The net effect of their leadership is nil.

On the other hand, I've known and witnessed influential leaders who've had great impact.

Leadership and influence

I ran across an excellent article on the difference between influence and leadership by Steve Graves. He makes a good case for the distinction between leadership and influence.

[bctt tweet="There is a distinction between leadership and influence" username="tkbeyond"]

Plenty of people have been good leaders with good influence, such as, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, and Billy Graham.

Leaders with evil influence? Sadly, it's not a short list, but men like Adolph Hitler come to mind.

Then there are many leaders who have a somewhat sketchy influence. A cursory look at political personalities could produce a lengthy list.

What about spiritual leaders where character and integrity are essential? Among them we can find good, bad, and even sketchy examples.

[bctt tweet="Spiritual leaders can have good, bad or sketchy influence in people's lives" username="tkbeyond"]

Another question

Last week, I answered the first of three questions I posed in a challenge in a previous post.

This week I want to look at the second question and give my personal answer. Here's the question—

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?

Three leaders were influential in the early development of my spiritual life and theology.

Two are now with the Lord, but their leadership and influence are still embedded in my life. One is my age, alive, and still influencing others for good as a leader.

[bctt tweet="Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life and in what way?" username="tkbeyond"]

My first pastor

I came to faith during the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's and early '70's. I mentioned some of this in last week's post.

Ironically, the church I was thrown out of for asking the wrong question is where I got grounded in the truth of God's Word. It's also where I began serving the Lord in full-time ministry under my first pastor, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

It was under him that I developed an appreciation for the grace of God and studying God's Word. Pastor Chuck was known for these two distinct things, not only in my life, but for thousands of others.

Both the grace of God and God's Word became foundational in my spiritual growth and my theology through his ministry. He was a living example of their importance and value, and a strong pastoral leader with great, enduring influence. Chuck went to be with His Lord in October of 2013.

[bctt tweet="God's grace and Word were foundational in my spiritual growth and theology" username="tkbeyond"]

A sage and a mentor

As my wife and I grew in our spiritual lives, we became more involved at the ground level of ministry while serving at a church and retreat center near Desert Hot Springs, CA.

When we arrived in 1973, it was a small church and retreat ministry in a sparsely settled area of the low desert of southern California. Susan and I learned so much about serving in every way imaginable.

Although it was remote, many significant spiritual leaders of the 1970's visited this little spiritual oasis. One of them was Rev PHP Gutteridge, known to us as "Percy". He was much older than us and also much wiser, a true sage.

Percy's teaching had spiritual depth and often centered on the cross of Christ, and the need for Christian believers to walk the way of the cross. Originally from England, he pastored this church in its infancy. In our time there, he visited on a regular basis, especially when we held large holiday retreats.

After I planted a church in 1978, he would come to preach to our little growing congregation in the upper desert area of Yucca Valley, CA. When he died in October of 1998, we were missionaries in the Philippines.

His life and ministry continue to influence us both to this day. Percy stirred my heart to further plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the essential simplicity of the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

[bctt tweet="I was stirred to plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the way of the cross" username="tkbeyond"]

My friend and mentor

My involvement in ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa came at the invitation of a young man my age, but with much greater experience.

Bruce's wife, Joni, was pregnant and found it difficult to hold her guitar to lead praise for children's church. I and a couple others jumped in to help and this began a long term friendship in ministry.

Bruce opened the door for me to serve in many ways. When he and his young family moved out to the church and retreat ministry I mentioned earlier, we joined them and the ministry about a year later. We served their for five years, and it was of great value in so many ways.

Through Bruce's pastoral guidance, I learned how to preach, teach, counsel and lead as an assistant pastor. This was the foundation for my stepping out to plant a church and to develop a Bible College in the Philippines. It was practical, hands-on training.

[bctt tweet="I received practical, hands-on training that became a foundation for pastoral ministry" username="tkbeyond"]

But he was more than a pastoral mentor to me, he was a true friend. Bruce has a clear grasp on the immense, far-reaching love of God, which was infectious. His influence continues to reach around the world in a ministry he founded while pastoring in southern California—He Intends Victory.

Who for you?

So, now that you know who were important spiritual influences in my life and theology, how about you?

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far?

And what is their influence in your life?

How I Got Theology– Part 1

Photo credit: unsplash.com_APokusin The truth of God is not relative. That is, it doesn't change to adapt and conform to changes in the culture and beliefs of people.

Much is made of the idea of relativism and a post-modern mindset. The concept that what's true for you isn't necessarily true for me, isn't truth.

Personal, philosophical beliefs don't become reality just because they're thought out. The natural laws of the earth and universe illustrate and reflect the unchanging nature of God, its creator, and His truth.

Clichés aren't sufficient

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, "Got Theology?" The gist of it is that theology can become highly personalized. And yet, the truth of God remains unchanged. It's based on who He is, not opinions or a belief system.

[bctt tweet="God's truth remains is based on who He is, not personal opinions or beliefs " username="tkbeyond"]

Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe. The trite saying—God said it, I believe it, that settles it—isn't sufficient, it's a cliché.

Arriving at why we believe what we do—our theology—can be understood by seeing how we arrive at that belief. I won't backtrack through what is shared in the previous post, but I do want to look at a challenge I posed in that post.

[bctt tweet="Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe" username="tkbeyond"]

The challenge—3 questions

The challenge involved 3 questions that help determine how our personal theology develops. As an example, I'll answer these questions for my own life. I'll do this over the next three weeks.

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you. Here are the 3 questions—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

My learning curve

I'm a visual and kinetic (experiential) learner. I tend to learn best by watching, then doing. I'm also a reader.

My search for truth and faith included the study of various philosophies and eastern religions. I attempted to live these out to a certain extent, as I read about them. Music and hitchhiking were also part of the process.

I also read the Bible each day for at least two years, yet without understanding it. I talk about this in my book, some of it in the first chapter.

My life reflected the times of that search—the mid to late 60's in America. I was immersed in the turbulent counter-culture that marked those years. This carried over to my faith search.

A turning point

I'm a rebel at heart when it comes to learning. I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all. Of course, this doesn't go over well with authoritarian teacher-types. It even got me thrown out of a church when I kept pressing for answers.

[bctt tweet="When learning, I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all" username="tkbeyond"]

In the midst of my search, I came to a turning point in my life. I went up into the mountains, where I lived at the time, and challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some way. I was expecting something like a sign in the sky, a burning bush, or audible voice, but none of that happened. Discouraged, I headed back to my trailer.

Still wanting to hear from God, I opened my Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible to read. It's then I came across Matthew 7:13-14 and realized I was on the wrong path.

Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. (Matt 7:13-14 GNT)

I took this as a challenge, but I refused to pray the ("sinners") prayer or write down the date, as the notes in my Bible suggested. Like I said, I don't just accept things without question. I did have an assurance in my heart that my faith search was settled. Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology.

[bctt tweet="Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology" username="tkbeyond"]

What about you?

So, what about you? Have you had a turning point in your life, come to a crossroads, or other cathartic experience that settled your faith and brought assurance?

[bctt tweet="Have you had a turning point in your life that brought assurance of faith?" username="tkbeyond"]

This is an important first step in developing a personal theology. It's called a lot of things—coming to faith, conversion, getting saved. Whatever you call it, it needs to happen. It's the starting point of a settled faith, a personal trust relationship with God.

I'd love to hear from you on this—

What stands out as most important in your life as a believer?

Why is this so important to you?


Next week, I plan to continue this series of posts and look at the influential spiritual leaders in my life.

Projects and Posts

Photo credit: unsplash_JSheldon Projects. I like working on projects. However, I've learned it's easier to start projects than finish them. That's probably true for most of us.

One of the reasons I like projects is my tendency to lose interest in doing just one things for a long time. I like new things, different things, and I like challenges.

Recently, I've been working on a new project. It's connected to a couple of other projects that are revisions of previous projects I've completed. I hope to make it available next week.

What's make these popular?

For this week's post, I've collected a few of the more popular posts on my blog. I'd like to get some feedback on what makes them interesting or engaging.

Is it the topic? Is it the title? What is it a link on social media? What is it recommended by someone?

Whatever the reason, I'd like to know. So, here's the list of the top 5 posts, let me hear your feed back and thoughts.

Top 5 posts

  1. The Art and Value of Encouragement
  2. 5 Basic Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith
  3. Acronym-ically Speaking
  4. About the Beginning of the Story
  5. Who Needs Fellowship?

Again, as you check these posts out, let me know what interests or engages you most about them.

  • Is it the topic?
  • Is it the title?
  • What stands out to you?
  • What is most valuable or helpful for you?

Thanks! And please feel to comment on or share any of these posts!

Sweeter Than Honey

Photo credit: lightstock.com

"If God exists, why doesn't He make Himself known?" He has. The natural created world proclaims the existence of a Creator, especially the skies surrounding the earth.

All day, all night, God's voice reverberates to everyone on earth.

God's existence and voice are also made known within each person. First, our conscience—the inner sense of right and wrong. Second, the longing we all have for relationship.

Scripture

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day they tell the story; night after night they tell it again. They have no speech or words; they have no voice to be heard. But their message goes out through all the world; their words go everywhere on earth. [vss 1-4]

The sky is like a home for the sun. The sun comes out like a bridegroom from his bedroom. It rejoices like an athlete eager to run a race. The sun rises at one end of the sky and follows its path to the other end. Nothing hides from its heat. [vss 5-6]

The teachings of the Lord are perfect; they give new strength. The rules of the Lord can be trusted; they make plain people wise. The orders of the Lord are right; they make people happy. The commands of the Lord are pure; they light up the way. [vss 7-8]

Respect for the Lord is good; it will last forever. The judgments of the Lord are true; they are completely right. They are worth more than gold, even the purest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even the finest honey. By them your servant is warned. Keeping them brings great reward. [vss 9-11]

People cannot see their own mistakes. Forgive me for my secret sins. Keep me from the sins of pride; don’t let them rule me. Then I can be pure and innocent of the greatest of sins. I hope my words and thoughts please you. Lord, you are my Rock, the one who saves me. [vss 12-14]

(Psalm 19:1-14 GW) [Context– Psalm 19]

Key phrase— Respect for the Lord is good; it will last forever

[bctt tweet="Respect for the Lord is good; it will last forever" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is God's voice heard and known to all humanity? In what way is it expressed?

What is one example of God's voice and existence made known that circles the earth?

What are we told about the teachings and commands of God? What are they likened to?

What are the benefits of keeping God's teachings?

Reflection...

If God can be known through the natural world and within, why doesn't everyone accept His existence? Built into every human being is a capacity to resist God. It's called a free will.

When the beautiful intricacy of creation is reduced to a set of accidental and coincidental events, it deafens those who hold to that belief.

Insistence upon our way, regardless of its impact on others, hardens our hearts along with our conscience.

Creation reminds us daily of God's ever-present sovereign existence, and the truth of His word guides our consciences and helps soften our hearts towards God's Spirit.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

How does God's creation speak to you? What speaks the loudest to you?

What things have you learned about God from the natural world?

How has God's Spirit and the Scriptures brought conviction, correction, and restoration in your life?

In what ways does the truth of God help you have a healthy relationship with God?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

A Man and His Faith

Ayele_teaching_Omo Last week, I took a quick look at theology—our beliefs about God. We've all got theology, but we all don't believe the same things. By "we," I mean humanity.

Why don't we believe the same things? Because we're all different, with different backgrounds, and different life stories.

This week, I want to look at the intriguing life story of a friend of mine.

My Ethiopian friend

I first met Benjamin (pronounced Beny-a-min) at a church service and liked him immediately. He was the first Ethiopian I met, but not the last. His life story intrigued me, yet it stirred some controversy. He has a common name, but his life story is far from common.

He was born in rural Ethiopia into a muslim family. When he came home from school and saw smoke rising from his home, he was happy. He knew his mother was cooking a special meal for his father, who had other wives than his mother.

He came to faith in Jesus through dreams, as I've heard take place for many of Islamic faith. Because of his choice to follow Jesus, he was ostracized by his family, which sent him on a search.

Benjamin set out to find help to learn about his new faith and was directed to missionaries in Kenya. Along the way, he was captured by Communist soldiers who tortured him for his faith in brutal ways. Eventually, he found the guidance he needed, and came to America for education.

A passion for his people

I met Benjamin as he raised support to work with a mission in Kenya. He became a missionary to Ethiopian refugees gathered in neighboring Somalia. These were his people and he wanted them to know the Lord Jesus.

I had him preach at our church a couple of times in the mid-eighties, so I heard much of his story. We also spent time talking about his mission and passion for reaching his people with the gospel.

I found Benjamin to be a man of great faith and integrity. He was childlike in the ways of American culture and social norms, but well-read and intelligent. I trusted him.

An interrupted testimony

He told me of a time when he shared his testimony at another church. The pastor invited him on the recommendation of someone in his congregation. As he told the story of his conversion from Islam to Christ, the pastor interrupted him and had him sit down.

The pastor told him he didn't believe in such things (the supernatural experiences), and discounted his life story. This stunned my friend Benjamin. It saddened me as he told me of it. Needless to say, this pastor was not one of his supporters.

Here was a man of integrity and without deceit who shared his personal encounter with Jesus, but he was not believed. Why? Because the pastor couldn't get past his own theological filters.

I'm glad for my encounter with Benjamin. His life added more depth and fullness to mine. He was one more encouragement for my own missionary experience. Years later I would visit his homeland (see photo above).

When we moved to the Philippines and he moved to Kenya, we lost contact with each other. But I will never forget Benjamin and his faith.

We're not all the same

Our experiences and encounters in pursuit of the truth shape and impact our faith and understanding of God. Identical experiences don't produce the same results. A simple reading of the gospels reveals this.

All of the apostles were afraid of Jesus as He walked on the water. Only Peter got out of the boat to walk towards Him (Matt 14:22-33). The Roman centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus realized He was innocent, unlike his fellow soldiers (Luke 23:47). After Jesus healed ten lepers, only one came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19).

Each of us view things differently. We often draw different conclusions with different perspectives from similar experiences. So, how can we possibly have any unity in the Christian faith? Benjamin and I shared the same faith in Jesus, but our life stories were very different.

The Christian faith is a personal faith because it's centered on the person of Jesus. The closer we grow in our relationship with Jesus, the more unified we become as a group. This can be seen during a worship service, as the Lord intends (1 Cor 12:12-14, 25).

A question and a challenge

Last week, I mentioned two things I hoped to get more response on, so here it goes again.

Would any of you reading this post be interested in learning more about inductive Bible study? If that sounds interesting, let me know.

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important to your spiritual growth and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

I'd love to hear your responses to any of the above. You can post it in the comments for this post, or post it on the Word-Strong Facebook page.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this post!

Got Theology?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ABurden Theology, gotta have it! Even atheists and agnostics have a form of theology—one doesn't believe God exists and the other is unsure or indifferent. It's still a belief about God.

Many different types of theology exist. Some theology is complex, it requires a PhD to know authoritatively. But most people have a much simpler theology based on their personal experience with spiritual truth.

We all believe something about God, no matter how we define or describe it. 

A (very) basic understanding

Christian theology is categorized in various ways. The most common one is systematic theology. It's a system of beliefs, but often with an embedded view-point.

Systematic theology sets out to be objective, but the starting point can be subjective based on certain beliefs, such as—Evangelical, Reformed, Pentecostal, or Roman Catholic perspectives.

Another major area of Christian theology is Biblical theology. It's based on what is revealed from the written Scriptures, and is, I believe, more likely to bear the original intent of the Holy Spirit's inspiration (2 Tim 3:16).

Of course, Biblical theology can be both objective or subjective depending on how it's approached. If an objective approach to exegesis is applied, even an inductive study, the theology gained should be more objective, systematic and trustworthy.

[bctt tweet=" It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others" username="tkbeyond"]

A cultural theology is also common for many believers. This tends to be highly subjective and personal. In other words, it's distinctively un-objective. One example of an American version of this became known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Gaining a good theology

Unless you're a seminary grad or highly motivated Bible student, most Christians believe what they're told or taught by influential leaders in their lives. These would include pastors, evangelists, and popular speakers and authors.

It's easy to be swayed by the opinions and biases of others, unless you develop an objective and systematic approach for studying the Bible.

Paul the apostle's exhortation to the young leader Timothy reflects this—

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

This is the value of an approach like Inductive Bible Study, or IBS. A very basic description of how it's done is expressed in the three primary steps to the IBS approach—observation, interpretation, and application.

Perhaps in the next week or so, I'll talk about this in more detail. If that sounds interesting, let me know!

Belief-based or relationship-based theology

One question I think we all need to answer is this—How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology? A follow-up question is—How have we developed our personal theology?

We've all developed our own theology, whether we're aware of it or not. It develops over time as we learn and internalize truth as we understand it. That's the key thing. How do we understand it?

[bctt tweet="How does our theology define us, or do we define our theology?" username="tkbeyond"]

It comes down to whether we have a belief-based or relationship-based theology. What's the difference? One is grounded in certain beliefs, but often leads to dogmatism. The other is grounded in relationship, but based on the truth revealed by God's Spirit (see John 14:26 and 2 Tim 3:16-17).

When dogmatism becomes the basis of a person's spiritual assurance, a person's faith can be shattered if something undermines their belief. When our theology is relationship-based, it grows out of an abiding, continuing relationship with Jesus and His word abiding in us (John 15:5, 7-8).

A few more thoughts and a caveat

Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment (1 Cor 2:10-14). I know this from experience. As mentioned in my book, I read the Bible every day for about two years before I began to understand it.

My openness to God was the key, not the time I spent reading. When I opened my heart to the Lord, He opened my eyes to understand the truth in His word (the Bible).

But God has shown it to us through his Spirit... Some people don't have the Holy Spirit. They don't accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. Things like that are foolish to them. They can't understand them. In fact, such things can't be understood without the Spirit's help. 1 Cor 2:10, 14 (NIVR)

[bctt tweet="Understanding spiritual truth requires spiritual discernment" username="tkbeyond"]

So, how can we develop a sound theology and a true understanding of God? A rule of thumb that's helped me is found in John's gospel where Jesus rebukes some Jewish religious leaders—

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.... (John 5:39 NIV)

Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus. If we only gain more biblical knowledge, then we become more like the Pharisees than Jesus' disciples.

[bctt tweet="Studying the Bible ought to deepen our relationship with Jesus" username="tkbeyond"]

Finally, everyone needs to be careful about how they interpret the Bible. It isn't just how it suits one person or another, nor how it should be understood from a certain religious viewpoint.

It needs to be consistent and congruent with what the author of the Scriptures intended. The author is God via the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter reminds us—

No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. No prophecy ever originated from humans. Instead, it was given by the Holy Spirit as humans spoke under God’s direction. 2 Peter 1:20-21 (GW)

A personal challenge

Here are 3 things I want to challenge you to do—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What's been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

You can respond to this post directly or on the social media where you see this post.

Would you like to know my answers to these questions? Then, let me know!


BTW, the photo for this post was downloaded from unsplash.com and the photographer is Aaron Burden, check out his photos... he's a fellow believer!

Easter Morning—a Restoration of Hope

  Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current acrimonious political scene, it's good to focus on a real hope. Hope that is living and eternal. Hope restored.

This is what the Christian faith has that no other religion can offer or know. It isn't a human hope, yet it's a hope for all humans.

Here's a story of hope restored, when all seemed lost.

Early remembrances

As a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service.

Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead.

Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon.

Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18).

Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Foretold, but unexpected

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were.

He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances.

Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.


What about you?

What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Everyday!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

Everyone Lies

Photo credit: lightstock.com

Have you noticed the similarity between promoters, sales people, and politicians? It's not coincidence. There's a whole psychology to persuasion.

Most of this promotional persuasion flirts with the truth. An element of the truth is buried somewhere in what's said.

It doesn't matter whether it's a product, a used car, some promise, or promotion of a person, much of the sales pitch is exaggeration, or in some cases, an outright lie.

The crazy thing is, we're prone to believe it. We want to believe these lies, because they appeal to our wants, desires, fears, or they hook something else inside us.

Scripture

For the director of music. Upon the sheminith. A psalm of David.

Save me, Lord, because the good people are all gone; no true believers are left on earth. Everyone lies to his neighbors; they say one thing and mean another. The Lord will stop those flattering lips and cut off those bragging tongues. [vss 1-3]

They say, “Our tongues will help us win. We can say what we wish; no one is our master.” But the Lord says, “I will now rise up, because the poor are being hurt. Because of the moans of the helpless, I will give them the help they want.” [vss 4-5]

The Lord’s words are pure, like silver purified by fire, like silver purified seven times over. Lord, you will keep us safe; you will always protect us from such people. But the wicked are all around us; everyone loves what is wrong. [vss 6-8]

(Psalm 12:1-8 NCV) [Context– Psalm 12]

Key phrase— The Lord’s words are pure, like silver purified by fire

[bctt tweet="The Lord’s words are pure, like silver purified by fire"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is the request of the psalmist? What is his reason for asking this?

What are four things King David says that show "no true believers" are left?

What moves the Lord to "rise up"? Who is He concerned about and why is this so?

How are the words of the Lord described in contrast to everyone else?

Reflection...

It's easy to get caught up in lies and deceit when that's what surrounds you. Emotions and imaginations are stirred easily, and it doesn't take long for cynicism and arrogance to develop.

The only counter for a lie is the truth. Deception is only broken with honesty. The first humans were deceived by a lie, because they wanted to believe something that seemed better than what they knew (Gen 3:1-7).

Without a plumb line of truth, we are easily hooked by a lie. Especially when it appeals to some want or desire buried deep within us. This is the value of the Scriptures. It's our plumb line of truth. It's how we can test everything we hear or are told.

The Lord's words are pure, like silver purified with fire.

If what you read or hear from the world around you doesn't measure up to God's truth, then reject it. Ignore it. God honors and watches over those who hold to the truth and trust in Him.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What are some of the persistent lies you encounter day-to-day?

How do you determine what is true and what is a lie?

How do you handle flattery, deception, and bragging by others?

How do you guard your own heart from speaking lies, flattery, and deceit?


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Fly or Stand?

Photo credit: lightstock.com

We've all endured difficult times in life. Some situations seem so hard and hopeless we wish we could fly off somewhere to get away from it all. How do things get that way? What causes these circumstances?

More often than not, it's connected to relationships—marriage, family dynamics, friendships, even work-related conflicts. At times, the proverbial "between a rock and a hard place" situations have a larger scope.

Millions of refugees throughout the world understand this. They didn't cause their dilemma, nor do they have control over it. They're faced with an untenable decision—do they stay or do they flee?

Scripture

For the director of music. Of David.

I trust in the Lord for protection. So why do you say to me, “Fly like a bird to your mountain.

Like hunters, the wicked string their bows; they set their arrows on the bowstrings. They shoot from dark places at those who are honest. [vss 1-2]

When the foundations for good collapse, what can good people do?” The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in heaven. He sees what people do; he keeps his eye on them. [vss 3-4]

The Lord tests those who do right, but he hates the wicked and those who love to hurt others.

He will send hot coals and burning sulfur on the wicked. A whirlwind is what they will get. The Lord does what is right, and he loves justice, so honest people will see his face. [vss 5-7]

(Psalm 11:1-7 NCV) [Context– Psalm 11]

Key phrase— I trust in the Lord for protection 

[bctt tweet="I trust in the Lord for protection"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What does the psalmist declare to those who tell him to fly away?

What is the dilemma expressed that good and honest people must answer?

What two contrasting thoughts are given as assurance in the second half of this psalm?

What simple truth brings assurance, even when wickedness appears to dominate good?

Reflection...

When the foundation of moral goodness seems like it's crumbling around us, how should we respond? Some of us may try to fight for what's right. Others look for ways to avoid it all.

I'm reminded of the anti-war protests of the '60's. Rallies formed at military induction centers and college campuses, full of emotion and rhetoric. Some protestors went to jail, while others fled the country to protest what they saw as an unjust war.

But there's another option to the classic fight or flight reaction. It requires faith. Not a blind or naive faith, but a settled trust in God.

There may be a time to fight and a time to flee, but many times we need to stand firm in our trust in the Lord. He loves truth, goodness, and justice more than any one person. He also knows how to keep and protect those who trust in Him above all else.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

How confident are you that God is greater than all the trouble that exists in the world?

What is your tendency when feeling trapped by circumstances—to fly away or stand firm?

Are you willing to trust God with judgment for wrong, when you are wronged?

What situation or circumstance do you need to trust God with more than you are at present?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms? Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Fuel for the Soul—part 1

Photo credit: lightstock.com What makes humans different from all other mammals? We have a soul, that is, we are a soul with a body—a spiritual soul. We don't live by instinct, but reason.

We have emotions connected to our thoughts, which effect our behavior. We are moral beings and are made like our Creator.

Generally speaking, we know right from wrong. We reflect on the past, imagine the future, while living in the present. And we need something more than just food, water, shelter, and other basic necessities. We need nourishment for our soul.

A need to know

The first human was created in the likeness or image of God, as are all humans. Humankind was created to rule over all other creatures on the earth, in the sea, and the air (Gen 1:26). This was the original design.

God also gave the first humans responsibility and purpose (Gen 1:28-30). He also gave us the capacity to think and reason (Gen 2:15-17), along with the need for companionship (Gen 2:18-25).

We also have the capacity to be wrong. This is made clear in Genesis 3. We have an innate need to know the truth, which spurs our curiosity and imagination. This enables us to be creative and productive.

[bctt tweet="We have an innate need to know the truth, which spurs our curiosity and imagination"]

"What is truth?"

But what truth do we need? Many claim to know and understand the truth, but all truth is not the same. This is revealed in the dialog between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, where Pilate asks, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

I was somewhat like Pilate earlier in my life. I sought out truth from various sources including the Bible. Along with other religious and philosophical books, I read the Bible every day for about two years.

Did I understand what I was reading? No. I was like the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah whom Philip encountered (Acts 8:30-31). I needed some guidance, but where would I go and who could help me?

[bctt tweet="I sought out truth from various sources including the Bible for about two years"]

Fuel for my soul

Right before 1970, I was invited to a church where the Bible was taught in a simple, clear way. This church became a reference point for me.

I still wandered a while longer, but returned there, made a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus, was grounded in the truth, and began serving in God's kingdom.

What was the key? The truth of God's written Word. I realized it was the fuel I needed for my soul to grow in a healthy way. It was the nutrition—the food—my soul longed for and needed.

[bctt tweet="The truth of God's written Word was what my soul longed for and needed"]

Spirit and life

As pointed out by many, when jesus was tempted by the devil, Jesus answered him with the truth of Scripture (Matt 4:1-11). The devil's first temptation appealed to the Lord's hunger, after a 40-day fast.

Jesus' answer was, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt 4:4). This is a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3, where God reminded His people that our spiritual need is greater than the physical.

[bctt tweet="God's truth is spiritual in nature and is the only thing that satisfies my soul"]

This is what struck a chord in my heart. God's truth is spiritual in nature and is the only thing that satisfies my soul.

Jesus made this clear to His first followers—

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

But not everyone either accepts or realizes this, only those with a personal commitment to Jesus. Here is Peter's testimony about it—

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

What do you think is the best way to be nourished in the truth of God?

What role is the church to be involved with this?


We'll look at answering these two questions in a follow-up post soon.

 

More Than Promises

Photo credit: unsplash_SWijers Commitment. Is it a forgotten value? Many express commitments, but how many follow through? Companies, politicians, the media, people making New Year's resolutions, all talk commitment, but are they only empty promises?

Promises, promises. Talk is cheap. Words are many, actions are few. However you express it, rhetoric and rants fill the air, but not resolve.

Resolve is the root word for resolution, "I resolve to...." Resolve, resolution, commitment, whichever term is used, is a promise requiring action. But what's the basis for making such promises? This is important.

The "C" word

The "C" word, that's what I called it. At the beginning of each new year, I'd craft a message on commitment. Each message was framed within the current need of the church in view.

Throughout most of the 80's, I challenged those I pastored towards some commitment. It became something we joked about, "oh no, the 'C' word again!"

It was joked about, but understood. Each of us in the church, including me, knew we needed to be challenged, reminded of our commitment to follow Jesus.

When I moved overseas, my challenge was directed towards pastors and leaders to study, preach, and teach the truth of God's Word. Later, I challenged my staff and students in the Bible college. I also challenged myself.

Over the years, many of these messages and challenges focused on the importance of God's Word, the Bible.

[bctt tweet="Resolutions are promises that require a commitment to action"]

A spiritual famine

When I returned from the mission field in 2005, I saw a great need in the church. I didn't have the same opportunities to address this need, as I had while pastoring and as a missionary. So I addressed it within a much smaller circle of influence.

Still, the need grew. It continues to grow. We are moving ever closer to what the prophet Amos spoke hundreds of years ago—

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12)

How would this be possible with so many biblical resources available today? We (Americans) are awash in study Bibles, devotionals, study guides, conferences and workshops, small groups, and mega and home churches.

[bctt tweet="We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment"]

We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment. We lack commitment to walk in the truth of God's Word. Let's face it, we're more talk than follow through.

Take responsibility

We don't need to be more articulate and erudite in Bible knowledge. We need to live the truth of the Scriptures out in daily life.

  • Live out the truth whether people notice it or not.
  • Live it out so it transforms our life from the inside out.
  • Live it out even when it doesn't meet the expectations of others.
  • Live it out even when it costs us something to do so.

[bctt tweet="We don't need more articulate and erudite Bible knowledge, but to live it out"]

How? Each believer needs to take personal responsibility for their own life.

Don't blame the church, the culture, pastors, anyone, or anything else. Each of us need to commit to seek the Lord, understanding His Word, and living out our faith each day.

Back to basics

What do you think is needed to make this kind of commitment? What does real commitment need to be based on?

In sports, when a team is making careless mistakes or playing without focus or passion, it's said that the players need to get back to the basics. Practice of simple, but essential fundamentals.

I believe this is true for Christian believers, pastors, leaders, and the church as a whole. But what are our basics? What are the essentials we need to put into practice?

[bctt tweet="What are the essentials Christian believers need to put into practice?"]


Over the next few weeks, I hope to explore some of these essential basics. I gave a hint above for the essential I'll focus on first. But what do you think?

What do you see as essential to live out the Christian faith?