What Wait?

Use your time to invest in one another and remember the good things that have been taught.

As I have aged I am reminded that our time here on earth is limited. Quite a few of my high school classmates have died. Still more folks I have met, while walking the path God has cut for me, have died as well. Then there are those who have died that are related to friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who have died. Still more are those related to me – my dad, my grandmother, my first daughter – have died. Each death and how it is handled is different. There are different ways to have a funeral, a viewing, and the like. But each person is surely dead. But there is one thing that is pretty common to every death, viewing and funeral. That my friends, is the eulogy.

The word Euologyaccording to Meriam-Webster.com,  means 1) a commendatory oration or writing especially in honor of one deceased; 2) high praise. It comes from the Greek word eulogia which means to praise. If you have been to a funeral you surely have heard high praise about someone by those who knew that person.

When these eulogies are said, they are very encouraging to hear. They typically point out the very best of the recently deceased. They are always laudatory. I have never heard a eulogy that began “He was a real jerk and doofus! I’m glad he is dead. The world is a better place without him alive!” Somehow I don’t think someone saying that would be very welcome. I also don’t think those statements would go over very well with those attending the funeral. Even if the deceased was a jerk and a doofus. Even if the deceased did more for humanity by dying than when he was living, those words should never be uttered.

Why is that?

Well first, the eulogy, by definition, is a praise of the person who died. It is meant to remember the good that was done, the positive aspects of a person’s life not the shortcomings. Second, and probably more importantly, since funerals are for the livg and not the dead, the eulogy can be an encouragement to those who were related to or friends of the deceased. That is a very important aspect: we should encourage those who loved the person who just died. We should look for the good that person did and remember the positive aspects of the life that was lived. But why do we wait until someone dies to do this?

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)

In the passage that precedes this verse Paul has been encouraging the believers at Thessalonica that they have not missed the Day of the Lord and their dead relatives won’t miss it, should it come soon. Paul is saying “encourage each other…build up one another…you’re doing fine, you haven’t missed anything. Be of good spirit. Keep doing what is right.” Paul is basically saying to use their time to invest in one another and remember the good things they have been taught.

 

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author is encouraging these Jewish believers to continue on to maturity. He is also encouraging them not to turn back to the Law for their righteousness since they have already be declared righteous by God because of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. The author uses the same word here for encourage that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians: parakaleite. This word basically means “to come alongside and help.  Hmm, I’m starting to see a pattern here.

Whether we are pressing onto maturity, looking for the return of Christ, living with the loss of loved ones or simply living through the trials of life, our duty – yes DUTY – is to encourage one another. While we are alive. 

I can tell ya from experience that encouraging words are far too few and far too distant these days. When I was a Pastor, the negative comments far outweighed the encouraging words. Even as a former Pastor, the negative far outweighs the positive. Why is this so? Why do we tear each other down during life, then praise each other when one dies? That seems hypocritical to me.

Surely the reason can’t be that folks around us do nothing good! If they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will do something good. If they are exercising their spiritual gift, they are doing something good. Why not encourage them and their family NOW regarding what they are doing? I’m not saying spew out meaningless platitudes and empty words of praise. I do mean that we should seek out ways to encourage one another EACH DAY.

I know, life is complicated and time is at a premium. We all have commitments that seem to urgently require our attention all the time. We have work, family, and church with all it’s busy-ness. Busy, busy, busy! Why should I (or you) make time to say a few kind words to a brother or sister in Christ? Why should I (or you) seek out ways to encourage another Christian? Do we really need to make time – time we don’t really have – to encourage others?

Yes. Yes. Yes. We should look for ways to encourage each other, after all the world knows enough ways to DIScourage us! So take a little time this week and find someone – anyone – who needs some encouragement. Give them a little praise. Say something nice about them now instead of waiting for them to be dead.

GIve them a eulogy while they still live. And help someone face their day with all its problems being a little encouraged.

Your Conduct Reflects Your Heart

I love the way Jesus taught. He didn’t try to impress others with His knowledge. He didn’t try to impress others by using big words hoping that others would think He is super-intelligent. When Jesus taught He usually used every day examples to reinforce His point. He used experiences that His students knew so that they would be able to relate the teaching to everyday life. I really want to teach as Jesus taught. I want my conduct as a writer and teacher of God’s Word to demonstrate humiity. I don’t need to impress anyone…I need to serve Christ. After all, my conduct reflects my heart. And if I am being sanctified by Christ, my heart should be humble.

In my last article I introduced the idea that humility is a necessary part of the Christian life. I introduced it through discussing Matthew 6:1. In this article I want to continue through that passage but use some examples from my life that I think everyone recognizes. But before we meet these two men from my life, lets observe what Jesus said in Matthew 6.

  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Since we already discussed verse one, let’s start this article with verse two and continue through the examples Jesus gives.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

In these verses Jesus is specifically speaking about giving to the poor among us. But I think we can take a general approach to this and include al types of service to others. We sometimes get caught up serving others while making it known that we’re serving others. That really isn’t the type of giving or serving that Jesus desires from us. The stress in this passage is on quiet giving. Jesus wants us to give to the poor without making a fuss about it. He wants us to give without receiving any attention from others or accolades from others for what we give. This can also be applied to serving others as well.

Don’t be like the hypocrites

A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. The Greek word was used of actors who hid behind a mask as they payed their part in a play. That is an excellent image of a hypocrite as used here by Jesus. A hypocrite is an actor. He isn’t truthful about who he is or what he does. Everything – or at east nearly everything – he says and does doesn’t match with WHO he is.

During Jesus’ day, the Pharisees made a show of their giving. They made sure that everyone saw them give to the poor. They were so concerned with looking concerned about the plight of the poor. But that is where it ended. They only wanted to look concerned…they didn’t really care about anyone except themselves.

The Pharisees were masters of looking holy and righteous. They were great actors. They could put on a show that could win an award for the best actor category. We have some of these guys around today, we just don’t call them Pharisees. I bet you have met some of these modern-day Pharisees. As a Pastor I had a few in the flock I shepherded. I’ll call one of them George (not his real name).

Communication with God

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Prayer is intimate communication with God. We should be willing to bare our souls to God in prayer. We need to be totally honest wit God. After all He already knows what you’re going to say before you say it. An important aspect of prayer is the effect it has on us. It should humble us. When we call out to God we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. Prayer humbles us. Or at least it should.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and George from my own life experiences loved to pray for a show. They would stand up, project their prayers so everyone around them would see how holy and righteous they were. But that is just their problem. They only look to be holy. It is all an act. But not everybody acts this way.

But just like we have folks like the Pharisees, we have folks who imitate Christ today. A person like this in my life is a young man named Jerry (not his real name). When the church I pastored was split and we found ourselves without someone to lead the singing part of our worship, I turned to Jerry since he is a gifted singer and worship leader. I asked if he knew anyone in our area that could help us out. After a few days of looking for someone, he texted me and said “I’m coming up with nothing…I guess you’re stuck with me.” At first I couldn’t believe what I read. I confirmed he was serious. wow, what a blessing this was. Jerry led singing for us for a number of months. He travelled about 90 minutes one-way to get to us and serve Christ in our small, dying congregation. He was faithful and humble. He wouldn’t accept money from us for even his expense in driving up to us. He was – and is – a servant of Christ.

So who do you resemble more, Jerry or George? I know both these men and I can tell you without hesitation that I want to be like Jerry. There are many Georges in the world…and the church. We need more Jerrys. We need more Christians like Jerry who simply want to serve Christ. They care more about the Church than about themselves.

So, are you a Jerry or George? Do you want to be seen or do you want to serve? Do you want to serve or beserved? What kind of heart do you have? Your conduct reflects the state of your heart.

Is your heart proud or humble? 

Until We Cross The Bridge

Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

I entered recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, in August 1982.  Parris Island is, well, a rock covered in sand in the middle of a tidal swamp. That is it. Nothing more to see. It is inhabited by Marine Drill Instructors and recruits trying to become Marines. It is not a fun place to live. I spent three months on that island. The three months I spent there are some unforgettable moments.

One thing I’ll never forget is the bridge to the mainland. My barracks was right next to the swamp. I could easily see the bridge that would one day take me off the island. Every day it seemed to get a little closer. In fact a friend of  mine and I would encourage each other every day with a simple reminder: that bridge is getting closer. Until the day came for us to leave the island, we would continue to grow and mature into Marines…and we would look forward to the day when we would cross that bridge.

The same is true for us Christians. In many ways we are on an island that is seemingly disconnected with the rest of the universe. We live among hostile folks who not only don’t believe like we do but are also hostile to our beliefs. But we have a mission here on this island. We have a role, we have things to learn. The lessons may be difficult sometimes but they are necessary. We also have a bridge we can see from here. One day we will cross that bridge when we leave this world with all its problems and difficulties and go to be with our heavenly Father. But until we cross that bridge, we must press on as we press forward.

Paul addressed this in Philippians 3. There he wrote

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may ay hold of that for which I was also aid hod of by Christ Jesus.Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12- 14 NASB

There are many important truths being taught in this passage. I cannot cover them all in one article and do them all justice. So I want to focus on one and really emphasize the attitude I think we Christians should have as we walk through this life.

We are passing though this place much like I passed through my time on Parris Island. But the goal in different. When I was on the island, my goal was to become a Marine and then leave the island. In my life as a Christian, I want to grasp the goal for which Christ grasped me. That goal is to be like Him. I am to be perfected in Him, to the glory of God. I am to be conformed to the person of Jesus Christ. That is what I have tried to focus on in this first series of articles: the progressive sanctification of us as Christians. Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

A key to achieving that goal is total abandonment of our previous accomplishments. Paul wrote that he practiced “forgetting what lies behind” while he pressed forward. 

One possible way to take this statement is that Paul chooses to forget his previous failures as he draws closer to Christ. Another way to take this is that Paul chooses to forget his previous accomplishments as he was progressively sanctified. So which is it? And why?

Because Paul so often is combatting those who denied biblical grace and relied on their own efforts, I really think that he is referring to his own accomplishments rather than his past failures. This emphasis would make it clear to those who read this letter that Paul rejected human effort and accomplishment when considering his goal of being Christlike. And so should we.

We like to talk about ourselves and about what we have acomplished. But we are called to a different life. We must not rest in our accomplishments or achievements. We must focus on what Christ is doing in us and through us. We must never look at our accomplishments as important. No, we must…we MUST focus in what Christ is doing rather than what we have done.

So how are you doing with this? It is tempting to say to ourselves and to others “look at what I have done!” But we must resist this. We must forget our accomplishments and focus on what Christ is doing…how we are becoming like Him, which is what we are to do anyway.

So keep pressing on this island existence. Keep reminding yourself that the bridge to this life to come is getting closer by the day. But until we cross that bridge, we must continue forward. We must continue to be more Christike. We must continue in our progressive sanctification Because one day – one glorious day –  we will cross that bridge and we will be like Christ.

Our work will be done, our goal accomplished. One day…one fine and glorious day. 

 

The Soul Canal

“YEOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Dang dude, that hurt. What did you do?”

The dentist look back at me in disbelief. He said “You have a massive cavity there. I must have hit the nerve. You obviously need a root canal.”

“A root canal?” I thought. “How come I didn’t feel any pain before the torture master hooked me up?” The dentist seemd to sense what I was thinking and answered my question before I could ask it: “The reason you probably didn’t feel it is because your gum had grown into the cavity. Your nerve was never exposed to the air and irritants in your mouth so you couldn’t do anything about it.”

And that was my introduction to the wonderful world of root canals. It wasn’t pleasant or fun. But it was necessary so that there could be something salvaged of my tooth.

That was over twenty years ago. My teeth haven’t improved much. I must have inherited someone’s bad teeth. Being diabetic doesn’t help either. One may say safely that I am intimately aware of the process involved in root canals. I’ve even had a soul canal too.

A soul canal is similar to what needs to be done when we sin.  When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow.

Now the first thing I need to address is the fact that Christians do indeed sin. With all due respect to Mr. Wesley, we are not perfected in this life. Our perfection awaits us in the life to come. Since we are still imperfect individuals we can expect to sin and mess up. This isn’t ideal of course, but it is true. And it is reality. If you need proof that Christians sin, hang out with me for a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but I;m not going to hide from it either.

So what do we do when we sin? 

“If we confess our sins, He is righteous and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB

When, not if, but WHEN we sin we need to confess them. This word confess is important to understand because we could easily misinterpret it if we are not careful. The Greek word translated confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo basically means to “say the same thing.” SO when we sin, we confess. But confession is not something we necessarily do in front of another person. No, if I understand homolegeo correctly, we name our sins the same way that God names them: they’re sins! They are not mistakes, blunders, poor judgments, etc. We don’t make excuses for them, we see them the same way that God sees them. When we do this we are indeed connected with God in a very deep way. 

“He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God.

God condemns thy sins: if thou dost also condemn them, thou

art linked with God.”      –Augustine

When we confess – when we name sin the same way God does – we demonstrate our linkage with God. We do not hide our sin or excuse it away. We name it sin, rely on God to cleanse us and then move on. Think about how our lives would be transformed if we just internalized this truth. God will cleanse us. God isn’t waiting to club us with His hammer or hit us with a lightening bolt when we sin. No, He is waiting for us to recognize our sin the same way He does. Once we do this, He cleanses us.

When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow. Believer me, I know. Eventually that sin will grow and grow until God has no other choice but to perform a Soul Canal on us, just like I needed a root canal because of ignoring pain in my teeth. When God performs a Soul Canal on us, we can expect it to be less pleasant that the root canal a dentist performs. But is is more than necessary.

So how are you doing recognizing sin in your life? Do you even recognize it? If not, you need to do a little inventory into what you believe.

If you do recognize it, do you make excuses? Do you simply name it sin, agree with God that you did it and was wrong, and have Him cleanse you? I hope you recognize it, name it, and get cleansed from it. That is the best way to avoid the soul canal.

 

Serenity Now!

SERENITY NOW!

SERENITY NOW!

For fans of the show Seinfeld, do you remember this episode? For those who never watched Seinfeld, well, “Serenity now” sounds a little dumb. This is another Seinfeld moment that one must witness to understand fully. But I’ll try to explain it anyway.

A new craze has hit the Seinfeld cast: whenever one is stressed, all one must do is say “Serenity Now!” and all the stress will melt away. A subplot throughout this episode is George’s successful nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who had been the advisor to the mayor of New York, has just been released from an psychiatric institution. All through the episode Kramer is busily trying to make sure Lloyd feels like he is completely sane regardless of the event that is happening. But back to “Serenity Now!”

Through this episode, Kramer and Frank (George’s dad) keep saying “Serenity Now” whenever they get a little over-stressed with a situation. Kramer explains that he has learned this coping technique and finds it to be a wonderful tool. As the episode continues, Lloyd and George team up to sell computers from the garage of Frank Costanza, George’s dad. Predictably Lloyd is completely outperforming George. Well this little fact prompts George to hatch a plan. He’ll hide the computers in Kramer’s apartment, say they’re all sold, claim victory after the competition is over, and then sell them later. Foolproof, right? What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

As it turns out, all that is achieved by saying “Serenity Now!” when stressed is a bottling up of the stress which leads to a major explosion. George learns this fact from one Lloyd Braun who tells him that the reason he (Lloyd) ended in a psychiatric hospital was because of “Serenity Now”. He told George “Serenity now, insanity later”.

George rushes to Kramer’s apartment after the competition ends and finds Kramer flipping out. We hear the sound of glass breaking, things crashing to the floor, all while Kramer repeatably yells “SE-REN-IT-TY NOOWWWWW!” The scene ends with George learning that Kramer just destroyed all the computers George was hiding in Kramer’s apartment. It was great. But I guess you just have to see it to appreciate it. So to refresh your memory or just for the first time, here are the highlights from “Serenity Now!”

 

SERENITY NOW!

So where did Lloyd, Frank, and Kramer go wrong? Is it wrong to seek serenity when times get tough? Well, no it isn’t. But the WAY they sought serenity in the difficult times was wrong. They thought through their effort they could find the peace they needed. But in the end, the serenity they sought eluded them and their situation was worse at the end than at the beginning. Before we judge too harshly, don’t we do similar things? Don’t we sometimes run from the very One we need to run to – to depend on – for our peace of mind and serenity? If we’re honest, we must answer “yes” to that question.

Jesus said “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

How often do we actually go to Jesus? Yeah, I know, this is mostly about repenting and turning to Him in our salvation. But do you notice the on-going effects here?

His yoke is now my yoke

This means that the yoke that Jesus places on us – His teachings and restrictions – are not as burdensome as the ones we leave behind. This is an on-going condition too. Whatever we face in this life, we’re having it placed on us by Jesus Christ who is, of course, God. So if I am to be burdened, why not have the ones that have their root in the all-knowing, all-loving, all-sufficient God of the universe?

Learn from Jesus

So now this comes into sharper focus. Jesus is talking about discipleship here. He is the One who is teaching me. That is why His yoke is on me and I am tied to Him. He is teaching me all I need to know. Maybe (probably) I won’t know everything that I could know, but I will know everything I need to know. And who better than Jesus to teach me. So are you – and me – being taught by Christ?

Jesus is gentle and humble

Do I really need to explain this? Both genuine gentleness and humility are self-evident. Jesus is the definition of both these traits. As His disciple, I should take on these traits at some point. If you are His, you should too. Are you becoming increasingly gentle? How is your humility? What about those who are your Pastors? Are they gentle and humble? Or are they overbearing, arrogant, and harsh? Take a look at not only the leaders of your local church but those in general authority regarding Christian things. How do they measure on the gentle-meter?

Rest is in Him

Rest. That is one thing we don’t seem to get enough of these days. But it is exactly what Jesus promises us. If we come to Him, strap His yoke on, we will find rest for our souls. How good is that!

His yoke is easy

This refers to how well the yoke fit the oxen or other animal it was on. Jesus is saying He customizes the yoke He places on us so that it fit us well. This is a far cry from the one-size fits all mentality of Israel’s leaders at the time…and some leaders around today. Each of us have a highly-customized and individualized encounter with Jesus. I am not saying that we all get saved in different ways. No, we are all discipled and trained in a way that fits us, not the masses. So Jesus IS concerned with us as individuals with various personalities and differences. He is not looking to treat us all the same…but He does treat us equally.

SERENITY NOW!

So, where are you and your dependence? Are you, like Frank and Kramer, relying on “SERENITY NOW!!” to give you rest and peace from the daily struggles of life? Are you trying to get stress-free through a psychological trick or by denying there is stress in your life? None of the tricks will work. Denying stress won’t work. Heck, even getting out and performing works of righteousness won’t grant you peace or serenity.

Only Jesus can bring you the peace that defies explanation. Only Jesus can give you rest for your soul. If you haven’t come to Him to save you, won’t you do that today? Find peace and rest – Serenity – for your soul…find that He is concerned for you and your well-being.

If you already belong to Him but have been distracted by the stresses of life, stop and spend some time with your Savior. If you have some sin in your life, admit it and move on. Jesus isn’t about to shame His own when they come to Him in sincere repentance. You are never alone in this life. I don’t care if you’re married or not married. You are never alone because God is always with you. Getting weary is part of being human. We complicate things by trying to be busy “about the Lord’s work” 24/7. When we do this and don’t take time to simply experience the presence of Christ, we cheat ourselves and grow more weary by the moment.

If you are weary…if you are weighed down by the rules and regulations someone else has placed on you…come to Christ and find relief. Find peace. Find rest. And find serenity.

And find that serenity now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Way?

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

“Which way do I go?” I asked myself. I was in a pickle. I, with some fellow Marines, had decided to drive around the Memphis, TN area. We didn’t know where we were or where we were going. It was all fine until the fog rolled in. And then we found ourselves on a street with no name. We didn’t have a map anyway and this was long before smart phones and GPS. We came to a “T” in the road. It was spooky. Imagine this: fog rolling over an unfamiliar piece of road around 11 pm. Four Marines in a Mercury Capri with a case of beer. Not the best circumstance in the world!

“So, Alvarez, which way do I turn?” I inquired.

“I dunno” he answered.

So without a clue I turned left. The fog got worse and our paranoia grew. Complicating matters was the Ozzy Osbourne blaring over my cassette deck. These were my pre-Christian days, just in case you were wondering. We began down this road and stopped just a few hundred yards down. At this point Alvarez chimed in with this wonderful question :”What would you do if a vampire appeared in the road in front of us?”

“I’d run over him” I answered.

Sandoval, another Marine in my car, then asked “What if he got up after that?”

Dead. Silence.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out which way we should go in our path of life the same way I did all those many years ago on a back road in Memphis. Just guess and hope there aren’t any vampires coming around. But we don’t have to settle for guessing about what we should do next or the path we should trod. We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit in us. Add to that the fact that we can approach the Creator of the Universe with our questions and have confidence that He will answer them and, well, we don’t have to worry about vampires or foggy roads, or even that Ozzy Osbourne spooky music!

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

John MacArthur defines discernment as “…nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.”

So discernment is basically making good decisions that honor God and glorify Him. But how do we, as fallen, imperfect, men (and women) achieve that goal. Hmm, that is a good question. Let’s cogitate on that for a few moments.

We begin to discern when we begin to examine everything carefully. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 we are told to examine everything and hold onto what is good. In the context  the specific thing that Paul is referring to is prophetic utterances. In Paul’s day (not unlike ours) there were folks claiming to be prophets of God everywhere. Paul is saying that when these utterances occur, don’t just take them at face value but look closely at them. Comparre them to the word of God to see if they are consistent with it.

O how we need that today! And this doesn’t just apply to prophecy. Have you ever heard something novel and new from a charismaic person? Before you jump at a “new” interpretation of any part of the Bible, examine it carefully. There isn’t a lot of field to plow theologically. Oh there are areas where folks disagree. But there isn’t much new. If you hear somehting you’ve never heard before about a particular verse or passage of Scripture be very careful. Investigate it further. Check out who said it. Does he/she have any training to make a statement like that? Be critical of the statement. If it is true, ir will stand the test. If not, it will fail to all except those who are blind to the truth. Put this effort in, after all, you need to be careful about your decision regarding this “new” way of thinking.

To discern what is right or wrong in doctrinal issues means you must know the Bible. This doesn’t mean you have to memorize it. But you must know it. Many men who can quote a verse here and there rarely really know the Bible. To know the Bible mens to study it each day like you’ve never studied it before. To know the Bible means to listen to what the word says to you. To study it means you decide that it is your teacher and Master…you’re not the master of it. To study the Bible means you place yourself under it rather than on top of it. You decide to change where the Bible and you disagree. This is absolutely necessary but is very difficult to do.

We all have biases. I have them just as much as anyone else. What I have learned to do is to try to set those biases aside and come to the Bible fresh each time I read it’s pages. This take practice and someone whom you trust to check you out, but is a worthwhile thing to do. A person who is a law and interpreter to himself, really doesn’t care what God says anyway. Don’t listen to such a man.

The result of this testing of everything, including our biases, is that we can be firmly entrenched in the essential doctrines of the faith and not tossed about as an unanchored ship in the stormy seas (Ephesians 4:14-16).

So, are you ready to work on your discernment? Are you ready to try to get better at making decisions. Practice looking closely at doctrines. Look at the WHOLE Bible not just a verse here or there. Make some decisions and then check yourself out with a person you trust…one who has been trained by others to properly interpret the Word of God. Read books and commentaries on whatever subject you are investigating. And by all means, pray for understanding. Pray that God wold give you a hearing heart. And then make some good decisions about what is right and what is wrong. About what is good and bad. About what is righteous and what is evil.

When you do this, you’ll be discerning correctly and not just guessing which way to go, or which way to think.

 

The Cardiac Kids

As I have progressed through this life God has given me, I have learned that the major battle we have with God – I mean THE major battle – is over control. We see the issue of obedience as being one of control and, to be fair, in some ways it is control. And we humans don’t like ceding control to anyone…including God.

 

Back in the 1970’s there was a football team in the US that earned the nickname “The Cardiac Cardinals”. Many of their games were close that went down to the final few moments before the Cardinals would win. They kept giving their fans heart attacks (metaphorically speaking), thus the “Cardiac” part of their nickname.

Sometimes I think we Christians should be referred to as the “Cardiac Kids”. A similar nickname for sure but for different reasons. The reason isn’t because we are “winning” at the last moment in life. No, the reason is much more important than that. We have a heart problem that shows itself, in varying degrees, in all Christians. This heart issue only betrays a deeper issue but is evidenced by our struggle with a simple, four-letter word. What is that word? O-B-E-Y. We have problems with obeying God with the right attitude. Shoot, we have problems with obeying God with ANY attitude.

Why do we have difficulty with the word “obey“? I’ve found out that if I want to get a reaction from people all I have to say is the word “obey”. We react to it. Some people even hate that word. So what is the big deal with being obedient? Why do we hate it so, so much.

Obedience is a big theme in the Old Testament. I remember one of my professors at Capital Bible Seminary, saying during one of my Old Testament classes, that God desired obedience greater than He desired sacrifice. The same is true in the New Testament. We see obedience to God taught from Matthew to Revelation. Why so much? Well, perhaps it is addressed so much because we humans have a problem with it. Our problem is not an easy one to solve because we see obedience as being dominated. When we obey, we sometimes think that we have been pushed around…dominated….lost control of our life. We see obedience so incorrectly.

Jesus taught that obedience is more about our heart than we think. Take a look at John 14:23-24 to have a snapshot of what Jesus thought about obedience:

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and

We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the

word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” John 14:23-24 NASB

Why did Jesus link keeping His words with love for Him? What is the connection between keeping His commands and loving Him? And is keeping His commands the same as obedience? Why does Jesus make this link? Let’s think about this for a moment and consider some examples from every day life and see if this will help us. Have you ever loved someone? I mean really loved someone with every fiber of your being?

I’ve been married now for 12 years. I love my wife. I mean I really, really love my wife. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. If she asks me to do anything, I’ll do it as quickly as possible. You know what? My wife feels the same way. We love each other. We demonstrate our love for one another by keeping each others desires and requests paramount. How could I do any less for God? Think about this for a moment.

Let’s say I tell my wife I love her. Now let’s say that my wife asks me to perform a reasonable act of service. it doesn’t matter what she asks. She asks me to do something for her. Now let’s say that I’m watching something on TV or reading a really good book. I turn to her and say “No, I don’t think I’ll do that for you. I have better things to do. Love ya babe!” Now, does my statement that I love her mean anything? No, they’re just words.

But let’s change this a little. Let’s say I respond “Geez honey, I just sat down and began to watch my game. Why didn’t you ask me to do that earlier?” I do what she asks me to do, but have I demonstrated my love for her? In all honesty, no. You see, robotic obedience, obedience with a bad attitude, or rejection of a request indicates a bad heart. I may say I love her but my actions betray a corrupt heart.

How is my heart condition with God? Do I obey with a poor attitude? Do I obey out of guilt? Do I obey out of an attempt to get God to accept me or like me? If I do, my obedience to God really means little. I should obey out of a heart that is thankful and one that has love for my God.

Obedience to God’s commands – whether those commands came through the burning bush, a prophet, Jesus, or an apostle – reflects my heart condition more than anything else. And my heart condition reflects my soul condition. So if my soul condition is ok and my heart condition is ok, my hands and feet will be ok too. In other words, if I am not battling God for Sovereignty (the Soul issue – authority) that will reflect itself in obedience (the Heart issue – control) and will work itself out through my hands and feet – that is, my work for the Lord will be the natural outworking of my vision of Him, and my  obedience to Him.

Obedience can be forced and many do force it. But that is just fake obedience because the heart and soul issues aren’t right. My heart needs to be right with God so that I can keep His words and obey Him with the right attitude.

So how is my heart? How is yours? Are we ready, wiling and able to obey what God wants us to do? With a good attitude? Or do we need to visit the Great Cardiologist and have some work done?

We all have issues with obedience. but hopefully, as we are progressively sanctified, those issues  become less and our heart becomes more His and less ours.   Then we’ll no longer be a Cardiac Kid!

When a Smudge is more than a Smudge

 

There is difference between reading the Word of God and observing the Word of God. That difference is important.That difference is essential in understanding the Word of God. Learning to observe the Word is essential to accurately handling the word of God.

I love movies that don’t cause me to think all that much. To be fair, though, I also love movies that make me think or remember historical events. I suppose the type of movie I want to see depends on my mood. One of my favorite movies to watch when Im in my “turn brain off” mode is National Treasure 2. I find that movie fun to watch even though there are violent parts and reminds us of the assassination of President Lincoln and the American Civil War that we seem to continue to fight.

In one scene in this movie, Ben, Abigail, and Riley are examining a document that purports to show that Ben’s ancestor was part of the group of conspirators that killed President Lincoln. As they examine the document in question they come across something. Ben draws Abigail’s and Riley’s attention to it. Riley says ” yeah, it says smudge”. Both Ben and Abigail found the”smudge” interesting and investigated further. Riley seemed dismayed by the process. Well Ben and Abigail kept looking and their perseverance paid off. What Riley saw only as a smudge turned out to be a cue that began their quest to clear Ben’s family name. Sometimes this happens in our approach to the Bible. What some see as just a little smudge others see as something relevant and probably important. How do you see the Bible? How do you read it?

There is difference between reading the Word of God and observing the Word of God. That difference is important.That difference is essential in understanding the Word of God. Learning to observe the Word is essential to accurately handling the word of God.

When we read the Bible with have the the words processed in our brain and we gain a superficial understanding of what was just read. We often times rush through our reading in order to get to the next portion of Scripture to read. Although this reading of the Bible far too often passes for our study of the Bible, it really shouldn’t. Let’s take a look at observing the Bible and how that impacts not only our understanding of the Bible but also our progressive sanctification.

When we observe the Bible we see more than the smudges that others see as unimportant. When we observe – instead of read or simply see – we understand better what the author meant with words he chose.When we understand better the author’s intent when he wrote a particular passage. When we better understand the passage, the better application we can make to our life and make real life change. Isn’t that the purpose of reading the Bible? Isn’t our goal to change and become more like Christ? Of course it is!

Observing the Bible includes more than simply reading. Think of observing as reading more than the words of the page but hearing the author speak to your heart and mind. To observe means more than seeing a smudge. When we observe we look at many more things than just the obvious.

One of the things that we “see” when we observe the Bible is the specific contexts of the passage we are reading. Now what do I mean by using the plural “contexts”? There are three things that are important to consider their particular context.

The first context we consider is the grammatical context. This means that we look at the grammar of the passage to give us clues to its meaning. These include how the sentence is structured, what is the object, and what how the verb functions. When we consider the verb especially, we really need to know if it is active (the subject is doing the action), passive (the subject receives the action of the verb), or middle (the subject does the action of the verb in an more intense way than the active voice). We also want to consider the syntax of the passage. Syntax is best described as the rules of grammar that give meaning to the passage. All these variables go into observing the grammatical context of a passage.

Another context to consider is the historical context of the time. Words have meaning at particular moments in time. These meanings don’t always stay the same throughout the time the word is used. Sometimes a word changes meaning or falls out of use altogether as time marches on. But these changes don’t impact the meaning of the word when it was first used. We must understand what was happening in the culture where and when a particular word or passage was written.

The third context we consider when observing the Word of God, is literary context. This context is concerned with the how the words appear to us. “What type of literature is this passage?” is a common and important question we need to ask. There are various types of literature contained in the Bible. In  the Old Testament there is what is termed Historical Narrative. This is the typically how stories are told. The  there is Poetry. Hebrew poetry is unlike the poetry we may have learned in school. The Psalms are a great example of Hebrew Poetry.

Another type of literature is Prophetic. This type of literature is concerned with future events. Oftentimes this type of literature is misunderstood because we fail to recognize the the special rules for interpreting prophecy. Then there is Gospel literature. Gospel literature is kind of tweener literature. It is between Old Testament and New Testament. It occurred in the period of transition. Then there Epistolary literature. This is where the church get its marching orders. Understanding which type of literature we are reading is an essential step in understanding, properly applying, and accurately handling the Word of God.

So what do you think? Is a smudge just a smudge? Or should we take a deeper look at it? Well when it comes to the Bible we far too often look at the difficult parts of the Bible as a smudge and move on when. If we are like Ben and Abigail in National Treasure 2, then we will take our time and look deeply into the Bible so that we can reap the rewards of observing the Bible rather than simply reading it.

After all, the treasure of the Word of God is far more valuable to our being Christlike than what any of our ancestors did.

A Successful Day

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

My dad gave me some of the best advice I ever received so that I could consider each and  every day a success. My dad told me over and over to learn something new every day. If I did that, I could view that day as a successful day rather than a wasted day. I’d like to say that I aways heeded that advice but, sadly, I haven’t always learned or wanted to learn something new each day. This is even more important when we consider our progressive sanctification. Am I really dedicated to learning God’s word each and every day of my life? Does the Bible even address this attitude that my dad tried to instill in me? Let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture and observe some important points regarding our learning His word.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:15-19 (NASB)

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. I want to consider a few important truths regarding how we should learn and what the effect of learning not only the proper things but also the proper way. Let’s dive in and see what we can observe regarding this very important topic of learning God’s word.

The first observation I want to bring to the front is that this passage is about false teachers. Paul dealt with people like this all the time. He worked on defeating them and did battle with them willingly. But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the steps we can take in order to be prepared for each and every challenge of life – each and every challenge to biblical Christianity.

In v. 15, NASB translates the beginning as “Be diligent”. Some other translations use the word “study” here. So which is it? The Greek behind this word means “to hasten, exert ones self, or to give diligence.” So both ideas could be included though I personally like “be diligent”. I think it captures the idea here better and the emphasis is on exerting one’s self toward be properly prepared. So the first thing I want to observe about learning is that it is a process that takes effort on our part.

We need to work at learning – and stick to it – to be properly prepared. There are no shortcuts. Learning God’s word is hard work. It is rewarding work, but hard. Don’t be afraid to embark on a new study. Don’t be intimidated by it. Embrace the challenge and be diligent in pursuing to know the truth.

The next thing I want to draw your attention to is the idea of “accurately handling the truth”. This is really important to understand. To handle the Word of God is one thing. To handle it accurately is whole  different thing. Simply memorizing the Bible is not enough. Simply memorizing some Greek terms to impress others is not enough. To accurately handle the Word of God means that we research it. It means we look into the background of it. It means we endeavor to understand the various contexts of it – the culture it was written in, how it was written, and the grammar used to write it.

Once we understand these things, then we can observe what it says, interpret it correctly and then apply it to our lives. If we miss any of these steps, we may as well not even try. Whatever conclusion we draw will be incomplete at best and at worst dead wrong and false.

We are not to mess around arguing about a word here and there. We are not to have empty conversations about nothing edifying. We need to be diligent –  theres that word again – to seek out the essential and true meaning of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t diligently seek to understand His truth, then we will teach what we think is correct. We will teach the bias we have. We will teach what we think is right and it may not be right.

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

 I must be willing to change what I know and change what I believe in order to conform myself to His truth. Then, and only then, am I truly learning the truths of His word. Then, and only then, can I accurately handle His truth. Then, and only then, may I share His truth with others.

After all, isn’t that the goal of learning something new each day. To share it with others so that they are then able to pursue the truths of God’s word for themselves.

Now THAT is what I call a successful day!

Ears on my Heart

How often do we listen to God? I mean REALLY listen to God! I’ll bet that we hear God sometimes but listen to Him less than we like to admit. In fact, listening to God is probably one of the most neglected habits we have while we are being progressively sanctified. We hear Him but don’t listen to Him. So what’s the difference? 

I believe the difference between hearing and listening has to do with our attitude. Sometimes there is something blocking us from hearing, so that can be difficult at times. I remember when I was much younger – 16 or so – I was helping my dad in our house. He had been talking to me but I continued to do what I thought he had wanted me to do. The issue was that something had changed, he told me to do something else, and I failed to hear him. When he asked if I was simply not paying attention or if I had not even heard him, I said I was ot paying attention to him. But, in reality, I had not even heard his voice. Eventually I admitted that I was having trouble hearing him and my teachers in school. I went to the doctor and found that my inner ear canal was blocked with something. I was given some medicine to help clear it out. Eventually my inner ears cleared and I could hear again. Listening, though, was another issue! After all I was a teenager and already knew everything!

We treat God like this sometimes, don’t we. We go about what we THINK He wants us to do. All the while He is saying that we need to do something else but we don’t hear Him or listen to Him. Sometimes, like me at 16, there is something in the way of our hearing Him and thus preventing us from listening to Him. This could be sin in our lives, unbelief, or simply being too busy with our own life to hear Him. But sadly I think we are all-to-often too enamored with our own plans to hear Him. You see, much too often we are spiritual teenagers…we already know everything so why do we need to hear God?

But hearing and listening to God is vitally important to our progressive sanctification. If we hear Him and then listen to what He says, we will become progressively more like Him. If we decide to do things our way, we will be, well, spiritual teenagers…we’ll continue to be legends in our own mind! But this should never be! 

You may wonder why I keep writing about “hearing” and then “listening” to God. Well, let me explain.

Hearing” is a simple process of processing sound waves that travel through the air, strike the eardrum, which in turn vibrates some bones which then cause nerve impulses to travel to the brain. The brain then interprets these impulses as sounds and, voila, we hear something! But listening is something else. 

We listen not so much with our ears…not so much with our brain. We listen – at least we should listen – with our heart. We have some really great examples of this in Scripture. I will concentrate on only one.

Let’s look at 1 Kings 3:5-9: 

5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

1 King 3:5-9 (NASB) 

In this passage we see that Solomon is now King of Israel. Solomon recounts how God had shown kindness to David in David’s life. God kept His word to place a descendant of David’s on the throne (who is Solomon). Solomon states the reality that he is young and inexperienced (v. 7) and that he has a big job to do governing Israel (v. 8). In verse 9, Solomon responds to God’s question in a majestic way. He responds as we should pray each day. The NASB does a great job translating the Hebrew here in v. 9. I want to zero in on the words “understanding heart”. 

. So Solomon wants to hear with his heart. He wants to have understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in dealing with the governance of Israel. He wants his judgments to be correct and discerning. In short, he doesn’t want to just hear…he wants to listen. 

  (The Hebrew here is leb shema. This means hearing (shema) heart (leb) – the term leb is oftentimes used for the center of mental faculties in the human. However, here I think the context is clearly more than simple mental faculties and employs more than acquisition of knowledge)

We need to listen with our heart to actually hear with understanding as God speaks to us.

This doesn’t mean that we hear God’s voice audibly. I believe the vast majority of the fantastic conversations with God with Him speaking audibly are not true. God typically speaks to us through his word. But we need to understand that listening to God is more than just reading His word. It is more than just praying to God. It is more than just sitting down and emptying our mind of the daily clutter. 

Listening to God means we hear with understanding. That means we both study the Bible on a deep level AND read it on a devotional level. That means that we pray to God asking for wisdom AND walk through the circumstances that bring us wisdom. That means we worship God with our voice AND with our Spirit. When we incorporate understanding into our hearing we have listening. And listening to God is a very good thing. 

When we listen to God we can’t help but grow closer to Him. We can become closer because we don’t simply hear what He is saying to us through His word but we also understand its application to us AND we apply it. Far too many folks just skim the Bible without ever really studying it so that they can apply it to their lives. That is like hearing someone on the phone tell you how to avoid a major pothole in the road then going out and ignoring everything they said. Then, when we drive through the pothole and damage our vehicle, we complain about the pothole. 

If we want to continue to draw closer to Christ – if we want to be progressively more sensitive to sin, more like Him and less like ourselves, we must – MUST –  practice putting ears on our heart. We must listen with our heart and not just our ears and brain.