Wednesday, October 30, 2013

God is Our Refuge

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-7
How do you plan to protect yourself? Our culture today seems obsessed with security, comfort, and protection. We have insurance plans, seat belts, pepper spray...the list could go on and on. But none of these things really have the power to prevent bad things from happening to us; they just help blunt the blow a little. In Psalm 46 we are introduced to a much superior protection plan.
This Psalm is written to God's people dwelling in God's city known as Zion or Jerusalem. Jerusalem was built on a hill that is surrounded by valleys and other hills. It was thought by many to be impenetrable until King David captured it and made it the capital of Israel (2 Sam. 5:6-12). Like most major cities of its day it was surrounded by high walls. These walls were designed to keep enemies out. It was their refuge. Anytime a warring nation attacked the Israelites they would run to the city where they would be safe. They would trust in their strategic placement on the mount, in their walls, and in their military might to keep their enemies out. This is human nature.
Yet the psalmist argues something else is the true source of Israel's (and by extension the Christian's) security. God alone is our refuge. He is an ever-present help in trouble. When trouble is headed your way, He is always easy to find. He is right there by your side. As the apostle Paul says- "If God be for us, then who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). The answer of course is no one of any consequence.

All of this carries important implications for the believer. Because God is our protection, "we will not fear." No matter how bad things are, there can be no reason to fear when you rest securely inside a fortress as strong and impenetrable as our God. He is the reason Christians for centuries have been able to stand before enemies of the cross and boldly proclaim the truth of Jesus without fear even when they knew it might mean their life. They knew that nothing could hurt them apart from God's will.
Even when God is your refuge bad things can still happen to you. But when Christians suffer it is not for lack of defense, or lack of refuge, or lack of preparation on God's part, it is because He has allowed it to happen. There are times when God allows us to suffer. Sometimes it is to discipline us and bring us back to Him. Sometimes it is to challenge us toward growth and spiritual maturity. Sometimes it is because He knows that it is through our suffering that His name will be glorified and an audience will be won for the gospel. But no Christian suffers in vain. As Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants." God does not take the death or suffering of believers lightly, any more than He took the suffering of His Son lightly. And even when we suffer, He is there with us in our pain.
So what do you trust in for your protection? I'm not saying that insurance plans or seat belts are bad, but they shouldn't be your hope for protection. David didn't tear down the walls around Jerusalem, but He knew from where His true protection came. Only God has the power to prevent bad things from happening to you. And with Him you can be sure that when suffering does find you it isn't because of a loophole in your insurance underwriter or because your seat belt malfunctioned. He allowed it for a reason and He will see you through it. Remind yourself today that God is your refuge. Whatever trouble you are facing run to Him for help. Run to God right now. Tell Him what troubles you are facing and ask Him for protection.
For further reading...
  • Psalm 46- Read the whole Psalm.
  • Romans 8:18-39- A beautiful passage on suffering and God's protection.
  • Isaiah 30- Read of God's anger when Israel turns to Egypt's military might for refuge instead of turning to Him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Give Jesus Your...Worst

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Matthew 8:1-4

It is not uncommon in the church I serve in to hear people talk about giving God your best. Specifically, I hear Christians talk about dressing a certain way when we come to church in order to give Him your best. I think I understand the heart behind this, but today I want to ask, what about giving Jesus your worst?

In Matthew 8 we come across a man who made it into the biblical record because he brought his worst to Jesus believing that He could heal him. And Jesus did heal him! I think this man's story is included in part so we can follow him as a model. Notice this man didn't have to tell Jesus what his problem was. His illness was obvious. He simply said “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Do you know that you can't hide your need any more than he could? You might be able to cover it up with a nice suit and tie at church. You might be able to hide it behind a fake smile at work. You might even be able to pass it off as "just being tired" at home. But you can't hide your sin, your brokenness, or your need from the Lord. 

Are you trying to hide your sin? Do you do your best to keep your brokenness out of sight? Do you have secrets? Chances are you do. Most people don't enjoy airing their dirty laundry. But be careful you don't start to think that you are smarter than you really are, because you can't hide these things from God. They are as plain to Him as the nose on your face. He knows about your pride and your selfish ambition, your jealousy, and your greed. He knows about the lust, the pornography, and the affair that they led to. You wear it on your sleeve every time you enter His presence. You can't hide it from God.  

I don't have a problem with dressing nice to go to church. In fact, I do it every Sunday. But you better make sure that the condition of your heart matches the condition of your clothes. Otherwise that suit or that dress may function more like a disguise than an outfit spiritually speaking. And to me it seems that it would be rather insulting to God for you to enter His presence week after week thinking that you were somehow fooling Him. 

So today, why don't you bring Him your worst and ask Him to heal you? What sin is in your life that you haven't turned away from? Bring it to the Lord right now believing that because of His death on the cross He can forgive your sin and set you free from the power it holds over you. What part of you is broken and hurting and in need of a healing touch? Bring it to Jesus believing that it is easy for Him to heal you if it's His will. What discouragement has grabbed hold of you and is beating you down today? Bring that discouragement to Jesus. Be honest with Him about how you feel, then lift it up to Him and ask Him to give you the courage to persevere in growing nearer to Him.

God sees the worst in your life. You aren't fooling Him, so stop hiding it from Him. Bring it to Jesus and ask for healing.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 11:28-30- Come to me, all you who are weary...
  • Psalm 51- David's psalm of repentance.
  • Matthew 8- Read the rest of Matthew 8 to encounter to mind blowing power of Christ.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Study the Bible

The intent of this blog is to help people get into the Word of God. Normally I do that by offering a short devotion on a passage of Scripture. My desire is that this will whet your appetite and entice you to read more of that glorious book for yourself because I know personally how easy it is to let a week go by without taking in God's Word.
This week I want to offer you something different, but something which I sincerely hope will prove helpful. Many Christians have never been taught how to study the Bible. These believers are discouraged and spiritually malnourished when they don't need to be. You don't need a seminary degree to understand the Bible. In His grace, God made sure that normal, everyday adults can read and understand the Bible on their own. Below is a simple Bible study tool pulled together from a number of sources to help everyday people just like you read and study the Bible for themselves.
All you need to do is pick a short passage of Scripture (most Bibles break the Scriptures down into sections for you), read it, and answer the questions. They don't all apply to every passage of Scripture. But some of them will apply to your passage. These questions will highlight important indicators in the passage that will help you draw out the author's main point.
My challenge to you is to walk through this Bible study method right now using Matthew 6:19-21 as your passage of Scripture. I pray that the Lord uses it in your life.
The Inductive Bible Study Method
Step 1: Pray and ask God to help you understand this passage of Scripture.

Step 2: Observation- Read the passage several times and answer these questions? They will help you identify  the author’s main point.
1. What precedes this passage? What follows it? (Context, Context, Context!)
2. Are there any repeated words or phrases? What are they?
3. Does the author make any comparisons?
4. Does the passage reveal a cause and effect relationship?
5. Does the passage have a climax or a major point that it builds to?
6. Does the author use figures of speech like quoting a saying or exaggerating for effect?
7. Is there important phrases like “therefore” or “because of this” that identify a main point?
8. What verbs are used to describe action in the passage?
*Go the Extra Mile!- You won't always have time to do this, but if you really want to understand a passage, answer these questions. Doing so will require either skimming the entire book of the Bible or consulting a study Bible or commentary which has an introduction to the book.
9. Who is the author or speaker?
10. What is the overall message of the book, and how does this passage fit into that message?
11. What historic events surround this book?

12. What type of literature is it? (Historical Narrative, Poetry, Letter, Prophecy, etc…)

Step 3: Interpretation- The Original Audience
1. What is the author’s main point for the original readers of this passage? What did the author want them to do, believe, or know?

Step 4: Generalization- All Believers at All Times
1. How can the author’s main point be written in a single sentence so that it is relevant to all believers at all times? What does the author want all believers to do, believe, or know?

Step 5: Application- Believers Today
1. How does main point apply to believers today? What specifically do believer’s living in your culture and your time need to do, believe, or know in response to this passage?

Step 6: Implementation- Me
1. What must I change in my life personally in response to this passage?
(Ask yourself the questions below to identify potential areas of implementation.)
• Is there a sin I need to avoid?
• Is there an example I should follow or avoid?
• Does God promise me something in this passage?
• Do I need to confess something to God?
• Do I need to thank God for something?
• What do I need to tell someone or do for someone because of this passage?
• In what ways does this passage train me to be more like Christ?

Step 7: Respond in prayer by thanking God for what you learned and asking forgiveness for any sin in your life.

*This Inductive Bible Study method has been taken from Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt as well as a talk sheet developed by Patrick Hamilton for use in the study of John.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Story

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:21-23

Let me tell you a story about our family, the human family. This story belongs to all of us, because this story tells what is true about all of us.

Once upon a time you were an enemy of God. You were born into a family of rebels who long ago broke away from God. They hated Him and had a proud history going back many centuries of opposing His leadership in their lives. But by your own actions many times over you proved that you rejected God's way of life and His right to rule over you just as vehemently as any other human ever has. (And some of you still do.)

But God, it turns out, is a King like no other. Instead of squashing this feeble rebellion, which He could have easily done, God's heart reached out in love to reclaim His rebellious subjects. He sent His Son to die for them and through the death of His Son, He has brought back to the former state of loving harmony those who believe on His Son's name.

Now God has a plan for these repentant rebels, these prodigals. At the end of time when He presides in judgment for good or ill over all His creation, He will present those whom He reconciled by His Son as trophies for His glory. He will keep them unblemished by this world. Their holiness will be above suspicion. They will showcase His great love and grace towards those who previously rebelled against Him, if they persevere in their reconciled state. You see, if they are to fulfill God's purpose for them, then these redeemed ones must continue established and immovable in their faith in the Son. They must not trade in the hope they have found in Him for some other supposed means of reconciliation to God.

This is the battle that those who accept the Son face, to stay true to their faith even as they live in a world that constantly tries to tear them away from Him. They face temptation on every side. Temptation to embrace evil and temptation to move their hope from Jesus to some other counterfeit option. If they are to bring glory to His name on that last day, then by His power at work in them they must persevere in the faith. The true mark of  genuine salvation has always been that it perseveres to the end.

Where do you see yourself in this story? Are you still opposed to God, hating and opposing His leadership over your life? If so, then look closely at the loving sacrifice of Jesus and allow it to change your view of this God (John 19). Are you one of the prodigals reconciled by the blood of the Lamb? If so, be on your guard. Stand firm in the faith to the end, so that your faith will not have been in vain, so that you may be found blameless on that final day. Cling to the cross of Jesus. Hold fast to the gospel of grace for in it alone lies your salvation and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:27-30).

For further reading...

  • John 19- Read the crucifixion story and be reminded of the price of your salvation. 
  • Matt 10:22, Matt 13:20-21Matt 24:12-14John 10:27-302 Tim 2:11-13, & Heb 6:4-8- Check out these passages which speak of true salvation enduring to the end. Admittedly this biblical teaching can be confusing, however I do not understand these passages to teach that a true believer can lose their salvation. Rather I understand them to teach that true salvation is proven true by the fact that it perseveres to the end. As always I stand before God and His Word ready to be corrected if I am wrong.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christ the Preeminent One

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:15-23

In every generation ideologies and false religions rise up claiming to meet our needs better than Jesus. They claim to bring us peace, to free us from addiction, to take us to heaven (metaphorically or literally), and to explain the mysteries of our world. But only Jesus is uniquely equipped to reconcile us to God.

I can't think of another passage in all of Scripture that so cogently and convincingly argues for the preeminence of Christ. He is the firstborn of all creation. That is to say that He created it all. He is supreme over it and possesses the inheritance rights to all of it. He is also the image of the invisible God. That which was unknown, even unknowable, He has made known and brought near to us in His life on earth. He is the firstborn from among the dead. Several others in biblical history were brought back to life (John 11:43, Mark 5:41, and others), but they continued living a natural life on earth only to die again. Jesus was the first to pass through death into a new kind of life that he has opened up to all of us. Jesus was given a transformed body, and He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And it is through the death of Jesus, His and no one else's, that all things are reconciled to God. Now we know that when this passage says that all things are reconciled to God it cannot mean that all people are saved. The Bible tells us clearly that will not happen (Rev. 20:15 & 1Cor. 6:9-11). Yet, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). In the end all will bow before Him and the world will be set right. Some will bow unwillingly, but they will bow.

If you are a Christian brother or sister I ask you, is Christ preeminent in your life today? How could He be moved more to the center of your schedule and your life? Schedule a meeting with Jesus every day, even if it is only for a minute to pray. If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, please know that only He brings true peace, true freedom, true understanding, and true reconciliation with God. Stop trying to save yourself. Trust in Christ!

For further reading...
  • If you would like to become a Christian. Here are the steps: 
    • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
    • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
    • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).
  • Colossians: Read the entire book. It's a great one.
  • John 1:1-18- Read a little more about Jesus' participation in creation.
  • Revelation 5- Only the slain Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.