1 TIMOTHY 3:16-17

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us...God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

1 TIMOTHY - Let's Get Spiritual!

“The Hub” has always been an athlete.

Tall, muscular, coordinated – a natural.

I’ve known him since we were both nine years old, in fourth grade. He was awesome back then, too.

The biggest thing I remember about him is how he could run – he was FAST!

We would have all sorts of track and field events back then. And “The Hub” was almost always a winner in the sprints. He always ran “anchor” on relay teams.

It was very cool to watch him run. He had this style where his whole body leaned forward, his hair would fly in the wind, and every part of his being would strain toward that finish line. He reminded me of a thoroughbred stallion…really!

As he grew older, he was an all-star softball player. Still fast, still strong – a natural.

“The Hub” knows the value of staying in shape – the importance of physical training.

Our society places much emphasis on physical fitness. Billions of dollars are spent each year on health supplements, gym memberships, diet programs, workout equipment, and the like.

But our “Bible Pick ‘Ems” for today emphasizes a different kind of training. Spiritual training.

“…train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come…This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God..”
(1 Timothy 4:7-8, 10)

What does it mean to train for godliness?

Well, what do we do for physical fitness?

1) We watch what we eat Likewise, spiritual nourishment is essential.

What do we feed our souls? Do we regularly spend time in the Word? Are we hiding it in our hearts, committing it to memory? Are we applying its words to our lives?

“But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)
“I have hidden your word in my heart…” (Psalm 119:11)

2) We exercise, do weight training, to increase our strength – Likewise, it’s necessary to increase our faith muscles, too.

Are we developing our faith by using our God-given abilities in the service of the Church? Are we stepping out of our “comfort zone” to stretch ourselves into new areas of ministry? Do we rely on the Holy Spirit to give us His strength and power?

“Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received…” (1 Timothy 4:14)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (Acts 1:8)

3) We work on developing stamina and endurance – Likewise, we must learn to be patient, and persevere through hardships and suffering.

Are we leaning on God to sustain us through any circumstance? Do we trust His timing? Are we obeying Him with patience?

“For you know when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete.” (James 1:3)
“And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Romans 5:4)

4) We get plenty of rest – Likewise, it’s important to learn to rest, to have peace in the Lord.

Are we learning the secret of peace? Do we search for it, strive for it, pray for it?

“Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (Psalm 34:14)
“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life…” (Hebrews 12:14)

5) We have trainers and coaches – Likewise, we should turn to the Holy Spirit, to God’s Word, and to other believers for instruction.

Are we allowing ourselves to be taught, or do we think we know it all? Do we study the Bible? Do we pray for guidance and insight? Are we learning God’s wisdom?

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.”
(James 1:5)

Training for godliness.

The word ”train” implies daily, sustained effort.

It takes practice to be skilled in a particular sport. “The Hub” didn’t become a good athlete overnight. He worked at it…hard. In the same way, it takes practice to be skilled in living the Christian life.

We need to work at it.

God does not expect us to be perfect; He expects us to be growing. Our part in growing is exerting daily, sustained effort to apply His Word to our lives.

Highly skilled and talented athletes will lose their abilities if their muscles aren’t toned by constant use. Likewise, our faith will weaken if we don’t put it to work.

It’s so important…

We’re not just training for this life – we’re training ourselves for eternity.

“For God saved us and called us to live a holy life.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

Are you developing your spiritual muscles?

"When in doubt, search God out!"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

EZEKIEL - The Long Fall from Grace

Today’s “Bible Pick ‘Ems” lands us in the middle of Ezekiel, a very interesting book.

Ezekiel was one of the Major Prophets in the Old Testament. He had clear and vivid prophecies and visions. However, very little is known about his personal life. He was one of the thousands of young men deported from Judah to Babylon. Up until those tragic days, Ezekiel was being trained for the priesthood.

Like Isaiah, Ezekiel had a shocking encounter with God. He was never the same!

Whereas Isaiah had warned Judah of the coming storm – Ezekiel spoke in the middle of it. He prophesied in the middle of terrible defeat.

God described Ezekiel as a watchman on the walls of the city, capturing the personal nature of his ministry. Dangerous, responsible, crucial…

A central part of Ezekiel’s message was the importance of each person’s accountability before God. He taught the exiles that God expected personal worship and obedience from each of them.

Today’s verses are a reminder of what happens to the disobedient:

“…you sinned. So I banished you in disgrace from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian…Your heart was filled with pride because of your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground…All who knew you were appalled at your fate. And you have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” (Ezekiel 28:16-17, 19)

Some of the phrases in this passage describe the human king of Tyre. Tyre was the powerful capital of Phoenicia. It was a highly prosperous and beautiful city. However, pride caused its ruin.

At times, though, Ezekiel describes the king in terms that could not apply to a mere human. Therefore, he may have been condemning not only the king of Tyre, but Satan, who had tempted and motivated this king to sin.

And we all know that pride caused his ruin.

I take two messages out of this passage. First of all, there will be an end to prideful ways, and haughty people. There will be an end to Satan’s rule. The long fall from Heaven is only the first judgment of God against our enemy. He has a final judgment day ahead of him. And after that day, he “will exist no more.” I take comfort in that fact.

God cares about justice. Wickedness will not win out in the end.

The second message I take out of this passage is a warning. God exacts punishment against those who proudly set themselves up. He will not tolerate those who do not yield to His Sovereignty. He demands fearful worship, and a heart yielded to His purposes. Pride will cause ruin.

“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Proud people are rarely aware of their weaknesses. They think they are above the frailties that plague others. However, in this state of mind, they are easily tempted – they are easily tripped up.

Proud people seldom realize that pride is their problem.

So, it’s time to take inventory. It’s time to let Ezekiel speak to us.

Are we proud of our “beauty” – our accomplishments, our success? Do we love splendor and money more than God? Have we sacrificed our wisdom in favor of wealth?

Listen to the warning – return to true worship. Avoid the long fall from grace.

“I will not endure conceit and pride. I will search for faithful people to be my companions.” (Psalm 101:5-6)

Oh Lord, count me among the faithful…count me among the humble.

“When in doubt, search God out!”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

AMOS - Shaken, But Not Stirred

“Will you pray for me?” my friend asked me the other day.

Fearing something terrible, I answered, “Of course I will, what’s wrong?

She went on to explain. There wasn’t any earth-shattering horror in her life. No deadly disease, no financial mishap, no terrible loss. There wasn’t any BIG thing in her life. It was just…well, her life.

She went on to explain how unsettled she was feeling, how unsteady and unsure. How previous goals seemed unclear, and earlier dreams felt unmet. How a straight and narrow path now felt crooked and directionless. How the clarity of purpose she had as a younger person, now felt blurry and indistinct. How she just didn’t know what she was feeling, what she was supposed to be doing, where she should be headed – how she felt unnerved, unsure, uncertain...

“Oh,” I said. “You mean you’re feeling life queasy.”

“What?” she replied. “Life queasy?”

“You know, that feeling you get on a boat out at sea. The pitching and rolling just has you off-kilter. A little uneasy and uncomfortable. You can’t quite get your bearings. Except you feel this way about your life. Life queasy.

She smiled. “Yeah, that’s exactly it.”

Do you ever feel this way?

Like a towel in a washing machine? All mixed up and disoriented?

It’s not a great feeling for anyone to feel, but especially for a Christian, I think. After all, we know the God of Wisdom and Purpose. We should have clear direction in our lives, we say to ourselves. We should have peace.

But we don’t – we feel distressed. We feel…shaken.

Today’s “Bible Pick ‘Ems” comes from the book of Amos, a prophet who knew a thing or two about being shaken up!

Surely Amos was a faithful man, a person whose life was devoted to God. But he was a simple shepherd and fig grower. He wasn’t the son of a prophet – not the son of a priest.

However, God had a purpose for Amos – a purpose that probably made him feel life queasy.

God took Amos from his homeland in the southern kingdom of Judah, and sent him to denounce the social and religious corruption of the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos obeyed God.

And though his message brought pronouncements of God’s judgment on Israel, it also brought the promise of restoration. Today’s verses bring a word of tremendous reassurance:

“For I will give the command and will shake Israel along with the other nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, yet not one true kernel will be lost.” (Amos 9:9)

Though these words were directed toward the nation of Israel, I think we can apply them to our lives. Sometimes God needs to do some shaking up. Sometimes He needs to “unsettle” us.

But always remember – God wants to redeem, not punish. He wants to purify, not destroy.

He wants to make us holy.

So God will always care more about our character than our comfort.

What can we hold on to when we’re being shaken?

The promise: The faithful will not be forgotten. True believers will not be lost.

God shakes those He loves.

“You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.” (Psalm 66:10)

“I will bring [them] through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold.” (Zechariah 13:9)

“When in doubt, search God out!”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

JOHN - Do You Believe...Really?

When I was a teenager, and into my 20’s, there was a spiritual re-awakening called the “Jesus Movement.”

It was a movement toward Christianity that began in the United States in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. (Yes, I know – I’m dating myself here…)

It began as an outgrowth of the hippie counterculture that was so popular at that time. Staunch, strict, staid Protestantism was invaded by those who adopted a looser, more inclusive Christianity. Members of the movement were called “Jesus people” or “Jesus freaks.”

“Jesus freak” was a derogatory term, used to dismiss these people in a negative way. It was often said in a sneering manner – “Oh…you’re a JESUS FREAK.”

The movement focused on universal love and pacifism. You know, the whole “peace, love, and Jesus” kind of mentality. “Jesus freaks” relished and focused on the radical nature of Jesus’ message. They often carried and distributed copies of the “Good News for Modern Man,” a 1966 translation of the Bible that only included the New Testament in its first editions. This translation brought the Word of God to a younger generation, speaking in their language – it was a new departure from the traditional, more formal King James Version.

Now, let me clarify. I’m not condemning this movement. Some aspects of the Jesus movement were based on good values. Many people were reached and converted to a genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ. However, for some, it was nothing more than the “thing to do” – and their “faith” fell by the wayside.

I was reminded of the “Jesus Movement” when I read today’s “Bible Pick ‘Ems” from John 2:23-25:

“Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.”

Does this sound harsh on Jesus’ part?

Why would He mistrust people who were putting their faith in Him?

The Amplified Bible adds a shade of meaning that I think clarifies things.

“…many believed in His name [identified themselves with His party]…”

It was this new “movement” that they were putting their belief in – not in Jesus’ “message" - not in Jesus HIMSELF.

At one point in time, my church’s high school group was overflowing with people. The most popular kids in town were there, the nerds were there...
(FYI – I was in the nerd crowd…) – everyone was there. It was the cool, socially correct thing to do.

Were there some genuine conversions? Absolutely.

Just as many of the people who followed Jesus genuinely believed in Him. But some had a superficial faith. They were there because it was the “thing to do.”

And Jesus knew, because He was discerning.

He knows the human heart.

Some of the same people proclaiming their belief in Him at this time would later yell, “Crucify Him!”

It’s easy to “believe” when it’s exciting and everyone else believes the same way. I think that’s exactly what happened with the “Jesus Movement.” It was a bandwagon that many jumped on. But when the ride got a little bumpy – when faith required right living, when faith required unpopular decisions, when faith required persecution and sufferingWHOA! Stop the bus – I’m getting off!

Jesus knew.

I wonder if He reflected on this passage – Jeremiah 17:9-10

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives.

Or maybe this one – 1 Samuel 16:7

“The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

I will not set myself up as the judge of another person’s heart. I will not presume to know the state or validity of their faith. NO WAY! I’m too busy attending to my own heart, my own faith journey. And even then, I’m not always to be trusted with self-judgment! I’m with Paul on this:

“It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.” (1 Corinthians 4:3)

But the question I leave you with is this.

Is your faith for real?

Will you keep your faith firm even when it ISN’T popular to follow Jesus?

Oh Lord, thank you for the assurance of salvation. Thank you for the gift of faith. Keep me from judging others. Keep me from judging myself – do not let me be deceived. Give me a right spirit, Lord. A spirit of truth and discernment. Let me seek You wholeheartedly and honestly. You alone know my heart. Convict me where I need correction. Convince me where I need assurance. Give me the desire and the power to follow You – with all of my heart, my soul, my strength, and my mind.

Yeah…I guess I am a “Jesus freak!”

“When in doubt, search God out!”