I’m having some technical difficulties…otherwise known as life getting in the way of this blog! Work has been hectic and my other commitments have eaten away at the time I reserve for writing. I hope to have a new article up this week. I apologize for the delay. But one good thing that has come from this delay. I have thought about a possible next series!
Since this week is Thanksgiving in the USA, I have decided to take my first week off in over a year to spend this week with my family. I hope all my readers have a wonderful, God-blessed week. For those in the USA, Happy Thanksgiving. For those of you outside of the USA, I trust you will also have a wonderful, God-blessed week.
I look forward to finishing Nehemiah in the coming weeks (I bet you’re ready for a change as well). I’ll reveal my thoughts for the next few months of articles and some other exciting news. May God bless you all.
I want to extend my apology for not having my normal article ready for publishing today. Because of work commitments I have not had the time to write, edit and format my article for this week. I hope to be able to publish tonight. Please check back tonight or tomorrow morning for my new article on Nehemiah: When Fear Collides With Faith.
Have you ever met someone who personified a virtue you would like to have? Have you ever known a man who embodied that virtue? If you have you have been blessed. I, along with many others, have been blessed to know such a man. That man went on to glory last week. This little tribute is all I can do. I hope it captures how I feel about the man I knew.
John was a man who was all about serving God. He would serve and encourage others to serve in their giftedness. John loved the Lord with all he had. How do I know this? Did he tell me he did? No, he showed me he did. He showed me in his life with his wife of 51 years. He showed me with his quiet strength he so ably used as an elder. He showed me when I would pray with him. He showed me with all the small projects he fixed and worked on at church.. John was all about God and so very little about himself.
I remember when I was a Pastor of a church that was fragmenting due to the actions of a few selfish individuals. I was sharing what was happening with a group of elders when John spoke up. He said he felt bad about my situation. I asked him why. He said “We’ve got each other to lean on in difficult times. You are not alone.” This was John. He cared for me and my dying flock almost to the point of tears. John cared so much for God’s people. He was and is an inspiration to me.
John was a man after God’s own heart. I believe John will receive great reward from our Father in heaven at the appropriate time. John never stopped doing good. He seemed to never tire of doing the right thing. He seemed never to grow weary while running the race God had set out before him. Whether he was healthy or not, John was always joyful…he loved the Lord and it showed. He studied God’s word and loved to learn. I had the honor of both learning from him and teaching him in a class on hermeneutics. He was so hunble. So very humble.
John was an example to me of a godly husband. Again, he never had to say he loved his wife of 51 years. But if you were around them for more than a few minutes, you knew he adored his wife. There was something in the way he spoke to her…and about her. What a wonderful couple. I hope I never have to tell people of my love for my wife and family.I hope I can be like John and treat my wife and family in such a way that people just know how much I love them.
John was a treasure to my little church family. A treasure of faithful, quiet, joyful service to each member in our fellowship. It hurts not to see him on Sunday. I’m sure others are hurting more than I, and to them I pledge the undying love of me and my family. We are here to serve you and love on you.
I know this isn’t my usual blog article. But I felt I had to take a moment and let you know what heaven surely gained in the last week, a devoted Christ-over and Christ-follower. And while we who are left behind here have suffered loss, we know we will see John again.
I look forward to the day I see him again.
Are you and I mining the word of God for precious diamonds
or just shoveling dirt around and finding plain old rocks?
I recently watched a show about the process of mining for diamonds. They showed the beginning through the end. It was amazing what had to be done to get diamonds out of the ground and onto a finger. Simply amazing things must be done to achieve a polished stone worth thousands of dollars. The reason companies – an people – go to great lengths to get diamonds out of the ground is because their is great value placed on the diamond itself.
How do we approach studying God’s word? Are we willing to put in the time and effort to dig deep into His word in order to wear the truth of it on our life? We should be wiling to do extraordinary things to bring the gems of God’s word out of the Bible and into our lives.
There is a man in the Old Testament who mined God’s word for diamonds he could not only wear but also could show to others. He was dedicated to learning, applying, and teaching God’s word. His name was Ezra.And we can learn a lot from tis man.
So who is this Ezra guy?
Ezra was a Jewish exile in Babylon, and he was a man who was called a “Scribe” in those days. He wrote down the Scriptures as the prophets spoke. He was said to have done more to collect and arrange all of the Scriptures and record them than anyone else.
Ezra was a man of “great piety and zeal.” What that mean was that he focused on the things of God, and it was a priority to him to do so. He put God and the Scriptures first in his life every day. We could call his attention to the Scriptures, “Mining for Diamonds in the Word of God” because the truths he found were like diamonds that had great value in helping him to live as God wanted him to live.
What can we learn from Ezra?
It is important for us to learn how to “mine for gold” that is in God’s Word. How do we do this? I don’t mean the mechanical process of studying. I’m writing about the mental process. How do we decide to mine for gems in God’s word? Lets take a look at a verse in the book of Ezra and glean some tips for it.
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7:10 ESV
He Set His Heart
Ezra’s dedication to God’s word was not by chance. He didm’t just happen to know the word of God. He decided to “set” his heart to study. The Hebrew word here has the idea of being firm or firmly established. It can also mean to set aright. So Ezra made a conscious decision to study God’s word. Ezra prepared his heart to know God’s word, not just read it. Does that convict you? Although I’m a seminary-trained person, sometimes I just don’t set my heart to study God’s word. Sadly I sometimes just skimming over God’s word instead of intently studying it. Ezra reminds me that effective mining of God’s word begins with having a purposed heart.
He Chose to Study
The Babylonians were people who studied many subjects– astrology, magic, and other subjects of the times. They were the “intellectuals” of their time. If it was written-down knowledge, they read it, they studied it, and they did it. Though Ezra has been around these intellectuals, his choice of what to study intently was vastly different than theirs. What Ezra chose to study was the Law of the Lord. This meant he studied the first five books of the Bible – known as the Penteteuch – He could have studied anything he wanted to, but he selected the Word of God as his priority. Ezra was saddened to see that the Jewish people had not studied much. Romans 15:4 says that Scripture was written for our learning, and we must study not only to understand the true meaning of Scripture but to learn out of it what will do us good.
What do you choose to study? Is it worthwhile? Will it make you a better person? Will it help you to grow in the Lord or will it turn you away from Him. Is what you are studying a productive use of your time – like mining the gorgeous diamonds mined from deep within the earth – or is it digging up just another piece of granite? Ezra made sure that he was selective in what he studied. There are many books we could read. Let us be like Ezra and to select them wisely and place the Bible at the head of the line of what we choose to study.
Ezra Sought the Law of the Lord
I get a couple of magazines in the mail each month. Invariably when I receive these magazines, the first thing I do is to flip through it. I don’t read it much. I just skim through it and look at headlines and pictures. I usually don’t study the articles. No, I just skim them to get an idea of what the article contains. Now skimming isn’t bad. In fact it can be very helpful. But if skimming is all I do, I’ll never learn anything.
We are told that Ezra chose to study the law of the Lord. He made it his business to check into what the Scripture said. He searched the Scriptures and sought the knowledge of God. What was God trying to say in this verse? He spent time reading the Word, thinking about it, clarifying what it meant. He was doing more than merely skimming the pages. He would stop on a particular verse and get his “pick” out and mine the diamonds that were deep down below the surface and hidden from the sight of the casual reader. It is important for us to allow the Holy Spirit to bring these truths out to us as we study the Scriptures. Otherwise they will be overlooked. When Ezra mined the gold, he laid up a treasure so that whenever he needed it, he had it ready to give out to others.
Ezra Applied the Law
What he mined, he applied to his own life. Do you apply what you learn in Sunday school and church to your life? If you don’t, then it is not causing changes to take place in your life. God wants the Word to transform you and to help you grow [Romans 12:2 ]. Ezra made use of the knowledge of the Scriptures in his life first. We must measure our life by the Word of God, be so thoroughly acquainted with it, and resolve to conform to it. Make it your way of life.
We have to apply the Word on our own lives first before other people will listen to us. Application of God’s word to life does not happen by chance. Ezra made it part of his life. So should we. We have to apply it and practice it daily.
In the Psalms David made the Word of God a priority. He hid it in his heart, laid it up there, that it might be ready for him to use whenever he needed it. He laid it up as that which he valued highly. God’s Word is a treasure that is worth laying up – like mined diamonds.
He Taught Israel the Law
Ezra was willing to mine the diamonds from God’s Word and to communicate them to others for their good. He wasn’t interested in looking smart as much as he was interested in communicating the truth of God’s word. Since he studied the Word, he could explain it to other people. He understood what God was trying to say, and he had applied theses truths to himself. Therefore he knew it worked.
Ezra was called a “ready scribe” in the law of Moses. He was able to discuss the Scriptures and explain them to others at a moments notice because he had already studied them. He knew them and was comfortable with the words already and was able to speak out just the right diamond of truth to the people that God brought to him. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul says to be ready to preach the word regardless of the circumstances you find yourself. We must grow in our Christian lives so that we can teach others what we have learned. It must be a part of us, not just something tacked on.
So are you and I mining the word of God for precious diamonds or just shoveling dirt around and finding plain old rocks?
For this new year, I want to challenge you – and me – not to only read the word of God, but to study, apply, and teach it.
Expectations. We all have them. We have them for our careers. For our families. For our church life. We expect certain things to happen as we progress through this pilgrim’s journey.
I’ve always dreamed big dreams. I once had a goal of graduating from high school number 1 in my class. Not. Even. Close. I wanted to be President of the United States. I then had the expectation that I would be one of the greatest, most heroic Marines ever to live. In fact, when I would write home from boot camp I would end my letters “The best since Chesty.” (for the uninitiated, “Chesty” refers to Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, recognized as the very definition of Marine). Well, I guess I made it up to mediocre at best. While I loved the Corps it just didn’t work out the way I thought it would.
I was discharged from the Marine Corps and wandered in California for another ten years or so. I owned a business, worked for some others. Lived what I thought was a decent life. But something wasn’t right I guess. My dad died in 1997. My world changed and so did I.
I moved to northern Virginia to take a job at a Primary Standards Laboratory. That’s pretty high on the food chain in my field. At one point some at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology—THE measurement nerds extraordinaire for the US) were interested in me working there. But it didn’t come to fruition. I felt the Lord leading me to Seminary. So I went.
I thrived in Seminary, loving all the academic stuff and learning all kinds of neat stuff about God and encountering Him in new and interesting ways. I graduated with highest honors, second in my class, in 2004 with an MDiv, a wife, child and another child on the way! We were ready to go and serve. I had high expectations. I was a candidate at a few churches locally. One I was a finalist. I thought I was going to be the one called. I was excited. I expected the call. It never came. I was not chosen. Someone else got the call. Disappointed is too mild a term for what I felt. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.
I served in a church in a bi-vocational manner (I held a job outside of the ministry I conducted). I would preach once a month, teach when and where I could. I thought I could do this for awhile. We were there for a few years until a doctrinal issue created a problem. I expected that it would be resolved. I guess it was sort of, kind of resolved. I was encouraged to find another church since I considered the particular doctrinal issue in dispute as essential. So me and my family left. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.
The years went by with me serving at another church. I filled pulpits and being a candidate multiple times. When the pastor of a church decided the Lord was leading him to another place of ministry, for a moment I thought maybe that I would be considered. That was not to be either as the elders had decided to ask someone else. (a fine choice by the way). I was disappointed again. “What is wrong with me?” I thought.
Well, time continued. The Lord seemed to leading me to plant a church. I met with my pastor about this. He had felt months before that I should plant a church. We spoke about how this should be handled. I wanted to handle it in a God-honoring way. I told my pastor that I would ask no one to come with us. I just wanted the prayers of these dear people. My pastor decided with the elders that they would encourage anyone who wanted to go with us to go with their blessings. Wow! I think we left with four families. We started well at Main Street Bible Church. We grew quickly from the small plant group to about 95. That growth was not because of me, it was because God was blessing the preaching of His word. My expectations rose. I thought that we could become a church that planted churches without regard for growing large itself. I was excited. Then my expectations crashed.
In August 2011, a man I trusted enough to appoint as an elder decided to leave Main Street. Not only did he leave, he left in a manner that caused the church to split. I knew that Main Street would not survive. Not a year later, Main Street Bible Church died. Heartbroken my mind wondered…“What’s wrong with me?” That question rang in my ears for quite a while.
As I have searched for an answer to that question, I figured out I was asking the wrong question. The question isn’t “What’s wrong with me?” The question is “What’s right with me?” An besides that, this life isn’t about me anyway!
I am a sinner saved by grace. I live for Jesus Christ because of Jesus Christ. I am nowhere near perfect. My expectations have yet to be met because I have mismanaged them. I’ve looked at them incorrectly. I have expected too little. When I should have expected to live a holy life, too often I settled for a “good” life. When I should have expected to be a servant, I often settled to be a leader (without the servant part). When I should have expected increased loyalty to God, I settled for expecting loyalty from others. Ouch!
So now what? What do I do now? I have a church split on my resume. The church I planted has died. Not achievements any pastor wants on his resume, that’s for sure. What’s next for me and my family? What is my expectation? Will I settle once again for something less? What do I need to do? How about you? Do you have unmet expectations? What do you expect to be, expect to happen, or expect to become in the coming months? Years? The rest of the life you live?
I expect to be a servant of God almighty for the rest of my days on earth. I do not expect others to follow me because I expect I will point everyone to follow Christ. I will pursue Him with purposed abandon. Though I will do this imperfectly, I will do this faithfully. While I don’t know what form my service and my family’s service to God will take, we will serve. That’s my expectation.
One important lesson I have learned is that we never really arrive in learning.
Whenever we go on a journey of over, say, 15 minutes we invariably hear the question “Are we there yet?” come from one of the back seats in our Excursion. Sometimes our son Daniel will ask “How many more minutes until we get there?” The destination doesn’t matter—he just wants to know when we will arrive. My wonderfully gracious wife will sometimes answer “we have [x] minutes to go” and she’ll ad 10 to 15 minutes to our estimated time. My answer? “We’ll be there when we get there!”
Life is sort of like a ride in your Excursion (or whatever vehicle you drive). We are on a journey to our destination.
In a previous post I wrote about progressive sanctification. I wrote about how we won’t arrive at our destination—perfection—on this earth in this age. I’d like to expand that a bit more. I’d like to talk about arriving in the sense of knowledge and wisdom. An important question we all need to ask and answer is “Am I teachable?” How we answer that question tells a lot about how we see ourselves: do I know it all or do I know enough to know I don’t know enough?
One important lesson I’ve learned is that when we never really arrive in learning. We should always be learning because there is so much to learn (I am speaking specifically about the Bible here). Those who think they have arrived are in trouble. I’ve met some of these folks—they don’t need any input. They know everything about the Bible and they are THE authority for all things spiritual. To disagree with them is not to simply disagree, it is to be unbiblical.
But I know this isn’t true. There will always be something to learn. There will always be a better way of doing things. This process of finding new ways of doing ministry—of teaching, preaching, and reaching—is a never-ending journey of learning. No I am not there yet. I’m not even close. But I am still moving towards my destination.
I am a student of God’s word, not the master of it
I love to teach the Word of God. I love to use every method I can find to communicate the timeless truths that we find in Scripture. I want everyone to know what I know—no, I want everyone to know MORE than I know. But more than teaching God’s word, I want to learn God’s word. Although I have a Master’s degree (MDiv.) I never want to think I have mastered God’s word. I am a student of God’s word, not the master of it. After all, God is still God and I’m still not.
The words of the Psalmist seem appropriate:
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)
The Psalmist introduces four themes in this short section of Scripture. He begins with “Teach me, O Lord!” continues with “Give me” then “Lead me”, and finally “Incline my heart.” Lets look at these one of these requests today and the response we should have.
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;”
O how we need this attitude today. There is no one who needs this attitude than me. I need to be instructed by God. I would love to ascend to a mountain and sit by a burning bush and have God impart to me directly. But for our time He has chosen to work through others. So what am I to do? I am to sit at the feet of my Pastor and learn. I am to seek out others who know more and have experienced more than me. I am to receive their knowledge and wisdom. Then I am to pass that knowledge on to others (2 Timothy 2:2).
My time of learning did not end when I graduated from Capital Bible Seminary. The years I spent sitting at the feet of my professors was time well-spent. But that was just the beginning of my education. I’ve learned from those who have walked with the Lord many more years than me. I’ve also learned from those who have walked with the Lord many fewer years than me. I’ve learned from men gifted very differently than myself. I hope I continue my education.
Currently I learn at the feet of my Pastor, Carl Strine and my elders Rich, John, Paul and Charlie (though Charlie is no longer an elder at my church I have learned a lot from him and will always think of him as my elder).
I am also learning from the students in the class I teach on Sunday evenings. Listening to their questions, insights, and observations as we discover how God wonderfully preserved His word for us has shone a bright light in my path. I am thankful for those who have added to my education. I learn from my wife and children. I listen intently to my wife and take to heart what she says. Her wisdom in dealing with the stressors of life is not lost on me. My children, young as they may be, teach me every day about faith, unconditional love, trust, and just enjoying the life God has given us.
I learn from my friends—Jeremy Smith—whom I look at as Paul looked at Timothy. I learn from his wife Lake. I learn from Tom and Lora, Doug and Chastity. I learn from Tim and Beth, Larry and Debbie, Tim and Sherri, Chris and Dana, Keith and Kathy. All these and many more have invested their wisdom and knowledge in me whether they are aware of their investment or not. You see I’m watching you and learning from you even when you don’t think I am doing either. Thank you for your investment in me.
“…and I will keep it to the end”
All this learning is not without purpose. That purpose is not for me to gain standing or respect of others. All this learning is not to make me look smart, good, wise, or anything else. I learn the Lord’s statutes so that I will obey them. I want an obedient heart. One that yearns to be useful for God, not for myself. We should all want an obedient heart. Obedience, though, seems to be the root problem for us humans. Our desire to disobey can be traced back all the way to the Garden of Eden.
To obey means I must yield my heart to His. I must yield my will to His. I must yield my desires to His. My dreams for me and my family must give way to Him and His plans for us. I so want to obey unconditionally. I want to obey quickly, unreservedly, wholly, and enthusiastically. When I’m gone from this earth, I want people to say one thing about me: He obeyed God.