Category Archives: The Bible

No grumbling

When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”  So he hurried and came down and received Jesus joyful.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”  Luke 19:5-7

One of the things that catches me as I read through the Gospels is the different responses to Jesus.  Typically they can be boiled down to three base emotions: mad, sad and glad.

  • Mad–In Luke 4:16-30 there is the account of Jesus going back to His hometown just after His baptism.  He picked up the scroll and read the Messianic text from Isaiah 61, and then said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  In other words, “I’m here.”  By the end of their discourse they get so enraged that they drive him out to the brow of the hill and try to throw him down the cliff.  When we try to talk to some people today about Jesus, they get that mad too.  They might not try to push us over a cliff, but they might threaten us with a lawsuit if we ever pray in public again, ending the prayer “in Jesus’ name.”  Oh, that makes them mad.
  • Sad–In Luke 18:18-24 there is the account of the ‘Rich Young Ruler.’  He came to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus told him one thing that he lacked to be really good, since that was what they young man was going for, was to sell all that he had.  Verse 23 tells us “When he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”  I have seen many people walk away from Jesus sad because they love other things more than Jesus.  It’s usually men, because it’s women that I work with primarily.  They get involved in relationships that they know aren’t pleasing to Jesus, and they pick that guy over Jesus.  They would rather have a guy by their side, even if he’s not a good guy, than to wait for God’s best.  For others, they pick sports.  A friend’s son got more involved in hockey, so she quit coming to church because hockey tournaments took them away every weekend.  They drifted away from pursuing a relationship with Jesus.
  • Glad–In Luke 19:1-10, we see that Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully.  He didn’t come up with excuses why Jesus couldn’t come to his house, he gladly welcomed Him in.  And then Zacc repented, telling Jesus how he was going to repay everyone that he defrauded.  What a joy it is to see someone receive the good news of the Gospel with gladness, and to see his or her life turned around by Jesus.

But there is another emotion in the Zacchaeus account that grabbed me today.  It’s in the grumbling.pngverses that are printed above.  Luke 19:7 tells us when they saw that Jesus was going to Zacchaeus’ house they grumbled.  We don’t know who the they’s are, but I can guess.  It’s the people who have resisted Jesus all along–the establishment, the Pharisees, the religious leaders.  I’m sorry it doesn’t rhyme with mad, sad and glad.

They grumbled.  Was it the whine of the self righteous, judgy, I’m so good I don’t need Jesus religious onlookers?  They are onlookers because they will never get involved, but only stand off from a distance and criticize.  Grumbling looks like it wouldn’t be as bad as the guys in Jesus’ hometown that tried to push Him off the cliff, but let’s look at Psalm 78:17-21 to see what God thought about the grumblers in the wilderness:

Yet they sinned still more against Him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.  They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.  They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?”

God’s response: Therefore, when the Lord heard, He was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob, His anger rose against Israel.

We might not look at grumbling as rebelling against God, testing God in our hearts, demanding things of Him and speaking against Him, but it is.  And it stirs up His anger, which never is a good idea.

In Matthew 23 Jesus delivered a series of woes to the Pharisees and religious leaders, telling them exactly what He thought about their self righteous ways.  He said they preached but didn’t practice it, and that they shut the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.  They wouldn’t enter themselves and they weren’t allowing others to enter either.  They were full of greed and self indulgence, appearing righteous, but inside were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

I want to have the same reaction to people that Jesus has.  And I want to grumble at the things He grumbles at, not the other way around.  The way I get Jesus’ heart is to spend time with Him, lots more of it than I spend on the influence of the world.  It’s too easy to pick up that grumbly, judgy attitude about people and think things like, “They should just get a job,” or, “Who do they think they are?”

There is no end to the wrong attitudes I can have and I can end up being just like the Pharisees.  Jesus said in Matthew 7 to take the log out of your own eye before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  That pretty much knocks me out of opening a speck picking business.

The people that grumbled when Jesus went to Zacchaeus’ house had a heart that resisted Jesus.  I don’t want a heart that resists Jesus.  Don’t you think it’s easiest to pick out other people’s faults when you’re trying to avoid your own?  That’s one way to resist Jesus–deflecting to other people’s stuff.

So, no grumbling, speck picking, or resisting Jesus’ work in my heart.  Not today, not ever.


A Gospel Ambition

I endeavor to bring the Gentiles to obedience of the faith, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God…so that I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and this I make it my ambition to preach the gospel not where Christ has already been named.  Romans 15:18-20

That was Paul’s gospel ambition, to go where ‘no man has gone before’ to preach about hands upJesus.  He had dreams and he was fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  A Gospel Ambition.  That sounds so lofty, reserved for heavy hitters like Paul, or pastors and missionaries.

Maybe the rest of us get ‘life ambitions.’  Now we call them ‘bucket lists,’ after the Morgan Freeman movie.  It doesn’t have to be spiritual, at least that’s what we think.  So our bucket lists include things like: seeing the Grand Canyon, or running a half marathon, or getting on Jeopardy (that’s mine).

**But does God put spiritual bucket lists on our hearts?  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are HIs workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which He has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  The NIV words it “that God has prepared in advance for us to do.”  He’s given us a mission just like He gave Paul.  It might not be as sweeping and far reaching as his, but my point is that God gives us all a ‘Gospel ambition’ a life purpose, and He burns it on our hearts.

That means we don’t have to look hard to find it.  We know what it is.  And God gives us the Holy Spirit to give us the power and the boldness to carry it out.  That’s what Acts 1:8; 4:31 and Colossians 1:27-29 say.  It wasn’t just for guys back then, it’s for us too.  Jesus lives in us and gives us His power, energy and boldness.

I occasionally get dreams that I know have spiritual significance.  I had  one this week.  I knew that there was something to the people and events in the dream, so I sought out a friend that is a pretty good interpreter and encourager.  One thing he has taught me is that if I have a dream about somebody else, I need to tell that dream to the person because God has a message for them.  God has been speaking to me about several things since that dream, including not letting me back pedal from my Gospel ambition.

In my dream I was walking a co-worker’s father home.  It was a snowy evening, and I was walking him home on a trail to his daughter and son-in-law’s cabin.  They had the fire going and they welcomed him in.  The father and I didn’t talk, nor did the couple invite me in.  My concern was that he got ‘home’ safely and I was successful.  I have never had a personal connection with this father until about three weeks ago when I rode with him and several others to a sporting event.  He is almost 80, so no spring chicken.

As I turned to head back down the snowy trail, the sun was going down almost completely and I saw that I had a head lamp.  My co-worker, who is not a Christian, called out, “Don’t you love those head lamps?  I have one every where I go.”  But within a few steps it dimmed.  I looked down the path and about 30 yards ahead there were four or five bears in my path.  I saw them, they didn’t see me.  My head flashlight went out completely and I laid down on the ground and back pedaled up hill and woke up.

The father that I walked home is not a Christian.  One of his daughters is, and I felt led to call her and ask about his spiritual state.  The night before my dream they had just had a family meeting to say that her mother had breast cancer and they were talking about where their burial plots were.  He is a skeptic and a debater.  She said, “I won’t be in that grave long.”  He said, “I’ll be in that hole for a long time.”  He needs Jesus.

As she told me this, the Michael W. Smith song played strongly in my head, “I’ll Lead You Home.”  Some of the words: “It won’t be long before your sun goes down, just leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home;  A troubled mind and a doubter’s heart; You wonder how you ever got this far; Leave it to Me, I’ll lead you home.  Hear Me calling, Hear Me calling…”

I had just watched the movie, “A Case for Christ.”  It’s about Lee Strobel, the big skeptic who tried to disprove Christianity and ended up becoming a Christian in the process.  The father was a lawyer and reads a lot.  I ordered the book and am going to give it to the Christian daughter to give to him this next week when they get back from a trip.  We’ll see where it leads from there.

The bears in the path are/could be resistance, nay sayers, overbearing people who would cause me to back pedal and to not be bold–hence, my light for the Lord dims and goes out.  It doesn’t shine and doesn’t do it’s work.  That so hits the nail on the head.  It is so easy to back pedal and avoid confrontation.  It took boldness just to call the Christian daughter out of the blue and tell her that I had this dream and to ask her about her dad.

When I read these verses about the Holy Spirit being the one who gives us the boldness, as well as the  ambition to be used by God in the first place, it gives me the confidence that God will do a work in this father’s heart before He dies.  He will lead Jim home.  I just get to walk with him down the path.

 

 


The Heart of Darkness (My thoughts on school shootings as an Elementary Principal)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (wicked KJV); who can understand it?  Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

This is a big topic.  It has so many facets with no easy answers, otherwise we would have come up with them soon after the Columbine shootings in 1999.  This hits close to home for me as a school principal.  Sandy Hook was especially unraveling, since it was an elementary school and the principal and school psychologist were two of the victims on that dark day.  Each time there is a tragedy, school safety procedures change, and Parkland, Florida’s will bring more changes.

Our staff met for over an hour this last Friday talking through our procedures and there will be more drills in the coming weeks with students as young as four years old.  What I have been thinking about is that it seems that we have a much deeper problem than just too easy of access to guns.   I’ve been working with youth since I was one myself, so that’s almost 40 years now.  We are products of our culture, which has certainly taken a turn south in those 40 years.  I am disturbed by many things.

One is the disintegration of the family structure.   When I first began to work as a school counselor, I would have students draw out their families as a beginning point.  It showed me who they were, who was important to them, who lived in their home with them…It became such a point of confusion that I soon abandoned it.  So did our culture.  You can say it doesn’t matter if you get married or not, if you get divorced or not, who you marry, how many times, etc. but it fragments kids in a million different pieces.  And then you wonder why their mental health suffers.

Which leads to the next issue, which is mental health.  If I began to really talk about the dire mental health conditions that I really see on a daily basis in my small elementary school, you would push the red button.  I went with a group of teachers to a conference on setting a school wide behavior system a few years back.  There were probably thirty schools there from across Wisconsin.  Every school said they were there because they didn’t know what to do with their out of control mental health needs.  It is a national crisis.

We have consciously taken God out of our country in our drive toward total secular humanism, or whatever you want to call it.  Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” meaning that nature requires every space to filled with something.  If you take God out, that means evil takes its place.  In our area, which is not unique, drugs have taken over.  We are inundated with meth and heroine.  Alcohol seems like child’s play, a relief if that’s all that people do is to drink themselves to death.

Families, that aren’t families anymore, stop going to church, and they start going to bars. I can’t tell you how many funerals I have attended in bars over the last few years.  Fifteen to twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable.   The other place they go on Sundays instead of to church is to sporting events.  The number of youth tournaments on Sundays has taken over.  Sunday is just another day.  ‘Sport’ is the new religion.

The parents’ spiritual health, calling it what it is, is not good, so the child’s spiritual health is totally spinning.  They have suffered the affects of abuse, trauma, neglect and have added in video games that are just waiting to fill that hole in their heart.  Along comes games that are created to addict people from an early age.  “Five Nights of Freddy”  “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” are not games that seven year olds should be addicted to, but they are.

The topic I’m supposed to be on is school shootings, so I’ll get back to it.  Suppose you have a child who is: a) from a fragmented family, b) whose parent may or may not be addicted to some sort of drug and c) has either the child or the parent has mental health issues because of it,  d) the child has been addicted to some violent video game that programs his muscle memory and goes for “high kill” numbers, and e) they haven’t ever been to church (so no moral compass).  Where do you think that child is headed?

Not every family fits into this category.  But if you look at the profiles of the individuals that have been involved in shootings over the years, they usually have those above mentioned indicators in common.

What is the real solution?  Certainly not allowing automatic weapons into the hands of someone who fits that description is a beginning point, but it doesn’t end there.  How do we even begin to go “Back to the Future” on restoring our families, getting a moral compass from the absolute truth that comes from the Bible and God, and stopping the insanity of violent video games that program minds at an early age?  Revival comes to mind.

As you read through the book of Judges in the Old Testament, there are some pretty crazy things that take place.  There is a phrase that is repeated several times:  “In those days, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  It was the explanation to why everything was off kilter.  What will our explanation be?

We all have a heart of darkness without Jesus.  The heart if deceitful and desperately wicked.  “We all like sheep have gone astray, and have gone our own way,” as Isaiah 53:6 states.  The only answer that I know is Jesus.  My only hope is Jesus.  Your only hope is Jesus.  “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  That is the rest of Isaiah 53:6.

 


Prayer in the Spirit…

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet...Revelation 1:10prayer

“I was in the Spirit.”  Have you taken notice of those five words much, or have you just sped over them?  I’ve been thinking about them in the last week or so.  I’ve been thinking about prayer, and pondering how much I really just scratch the surface of what God has for me and for the rest of us.  In Ephesians 6:18, at the end of the armor of God, Paul writes: “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…”

I haven’t heard maybe any sermons on what praying in the Spirit means.  But I’ve read some things about it from guys from the 1700’s, and one guy from the early 1900’s.  Could it be that all of our television, Internet and video games have wrecked our depth to have that be a part of the normal Christian experience?

JD Greear writes about it in his book Jesus Continued.  So it isn’t all just guys that are dead that talk about praying in the Spirit.  He writes, “Our greatest power in prayer occurs when our prayers are prompted by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.  Prayers that start in Heaven are heard by Heaven. (pg. 153)”

For me, the ‘in the Spirit’ promptings come one of two ways.  The first is through dreams.  It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but when it does, God gets my attention.  I’ll give an example.  I had a dream that a friend from church was covered in road rash.  She came and the ladies from church took her into this prayer cabin and totally covered her in prayer and she came out without any rash at all.  She was just fine.  I woke up, laid there and prayed for her for quite awhile, not knowing exactly what was going on.  Whatever it was, I knew it had to be rough.

The next day she was supposed to be at work and she wasn’t there.  Someone  mentioned she was at her husband’s court with him.  He was a doctor and was getting sued for some bogus malpractice suit.  It hit me that was what the dream was about, so I began praying fervently again for both of them.  At the end of the week we had a women’s gathering at our church and she described how those two days were the worst days of her life.  I would describe the prompting that God gave me through the dream as ‘praying in the Spirit,’ as there was no other way that I would have known how to pray.  He gave me a picture of what she was going through with the road rash.

The other way that God has worked for me is to give me burdens that will not go away until I have prayed them away.  When Scott O’Grady from the USA was shot down and behind enemy lines in Bosnia for eight days back in 1995, I couldn’t stop praying for him.  I must have prayed for him at least 8-10 times a day.  This was before 24 hour news, so I just kept praying!  When the news came that he was rescued, I cried.  When I read his book, Return With Honor, he tells of how  he laid still for hours at a time because captors were feet away from him.  At one point God gave him a vision of a “choir” of thousands of people from all around the world praying for him.  I was in that choir!

Jeremiah 33:3 says, Call to Me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) said, “Prayer in the Spirit is the energized prayer of the righteous man that is of great force.  There is passion in the praying that prevails.  God never keeps hot hearts waiting.  ‘When you search for Me with all your heart I will be found by you.’  Jeremiah 29:13-14  Prayer that is energized by the Spirit brings power, turn ordinary mortals into people of power.  It brings fire.  It brings life.  It brings God.”

I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what He will say to me.  Habakkuk 2:1

headphones-312817_960_720.jpgAnd the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”  1 Samuel 3:10

 


Here I am to Worship

Malachi 1.jpg

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.  Matthew 15:8-9

Where is My honor?  You priests despise My name by offering polluted food on My altar with blind animals, your second best, as a sacrifice.  Would the governor be pleased with that?  Oh that you would shut the doors and not light a fire on My altar for I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts…For from the rising of the sun to its setting, My name is great among the nations.  Malachi 1

We have a tendency to think that God should be pleased with any feeble attempt that we bring to Him and He should be happy with it.  An old boyfriend once chose to go on a card playing weekend with his buddies instead of traveling with me to get a much needed new (used) car at my parents several hours away.  It was dreadfully cold and my old car was prone to stalling out.  It did stall out  in three lanes of traffic, and I was stuck while strangers rescued me, mercifully pushing me off to the side of the busy city street.

He sent me a half of dozen roses after the weekend, most likely a feeble attempt to say “I’m sorry I chose my buddies over you,” without using words.  Unimpressed, I didn’t even put the roses in water.  Perhaps that’s how God feels when we give Him our second, third or twentieth best.  It’s not worship, so don’t even try to pretend it is.  To use Malachi’s words, don’t even bother showing up.  Yet we do it all of the time and think, “How lucky God is to have me.”

What does God take pleasure in?  What worship does He delight in?

Here are a few verses to give us some hints:

  • Psalm 50:23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me.
  • Psalm 51:6 Behold You delight in truth in the inward being.
  • Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You won’t despise.
  • 1 Samuel 15:22 To obey is better than sacrifice.  Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
  • 1 Kings 10:9  The Queen of Sheba said to Solomon: Blessed be the Lord your God who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel!

God delights in thankful hearts, truth, broken spirits, obedience, and He delights in us.  John Piper says that “Christ is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”  He expands worship to being bigger than just my frame of mind when I go to church on Sunday mornings, or whether I sing along to Christian songs.  Here are some expanded thought on that:

1.  Our pursuit of joy honors God.  It’s a joy that is found because we have come to Him hungry, thirsty and desperate and we know that satisfaction is found only in Jesus.  Our thirst honors God because we have come to Him to be filled (not to anything or anyone else).

2.  If we pursue God as our joy and satisfaction then it makes worship God centered.  If I love to be satisfied in God because He’s the center of my existence, then I am worshiping Him.  If my boyfriend went with me to get my new used car because he wanted to be with me, then he wouldn’t be my “old” boyfriend.  He consistently chose other things as more important than me.  I didn’t like it.  Neither does God.

If I delight in God, it is an end in itself because I love God and want to be with Him.  And He likes that.

3.  When we worship for the sake of God’s greatness and beauty, stuff happens.  In true worship, God is at work because the Holy Spirit is free to work.   People are drawn to God, conviction of sin takes place, people are encouraged, gifts come oozing out and a positive mojo happens.  If we come to church or to God to use Him, to give Him or second or third best, or to put ourselves in the pole position, God isn’t glorified and the  Spirit isn’t set free to work–and things don’t happen.

4.  All of life is worship and not just church.  Again, to requote John Piper: “Christ is most glorified in me when I’m most satisfied in Him.”  So if I am satisfied in Jesus, I find my joy in Him, and I pursue my satisfaction in Him then He is going to be magnified in my life.  I think about how easily I find my joy and satisfaction in fleeting, temporal things and think that I am no different than anyone else who doesn’t know Jesus.

God, turn my face and my heart to You.  My only hope is in You, my only joy is in You.  All that I have is in You.  I count the rest as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing You.  You are the pearl of great price.  For joy I will sell all that I have to gain You and Your kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 


A Special Friendship With God

Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord, God of hosts.  I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because Your hand was upon me…you shall stand before Me.  If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as My mouth.  Jeremiah 15:16-17; 19

Our women’s Sunday school class is still going through the book, “Jesus Continued…Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than the Jesus Beside You,” by JD Greear.  We’re on the chapter, “Experiencing the Holy Spirit in the Word of God.”  Greear’s angle is following the Spirit in the Bible to find that ‘special mission’ that God has for each of us.

Maybe back in my college days I encountered people who were prone to using the Bible as a ‘spiritual Magic 8 Ball’ to figure out who to date/marry and take all of the forks in the road, and it seems that  those are the kind of people he was writing this chapter to.  But JD Greear made a good point about being more concerned about who we should be and getting that worked out.  Then the when and where will work itself out.

We need to have someplace where we can grow and get grounded in the who.  If that doesn’t happen, no matter where we end up, we’ll be like King Saul or Samson–always wondering why we got dealt the bad hand.

But thinking about the deeper message of the role of the Bible in my life and what the role of the Bible should and could be in everyone’s life took me on a rabbit trail, so here it is…

Jeremiah spoke of this special friendship he had with God in chapter 15.  God called him to it.  I don’t think Jeremiah went out looking for it and had anything to brag about on the topic.  In Jeremiah 1 he told about how God called him and he said, “I’m only a youth.”  But God told him not to use that as an excuse and that He was going to put words in his mouth to set him over kingdoms to pluck up and to break them down.

It wasn’t an easy call.  Most of the time he’d go to the rebellious king who didn’t want to hear what Jeremiah had to say and he’d have Jeremiah put in a dungeon or a cistern.  And he was emaciated one time they had to pull him out of the well with rags because a rope would have broken his arms.

But he had a special friendship.  There’s a word for that special friendship in Hebrew, “Cowdh” where you recline in God’s presence, like special friends conversing, sharing face to face in a confidential conversation.  It had a cost, like not just telling people things they didn’t want to hear and things they wouldn’t listen to.  Jeremiah 15:17 indicates that it meant sitting alone, not with the revelers.  Jeremiah made a clear choice to go to the secret place to be with God.

In Mark 1:35, we find that Jesus did the same thing: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place (a lonely place, a secret place) and there He prayed.”  To get to that secret place of friendship with God means saying ‘no’ to the revelers, and ‘no’ to our flesh.  It means saying ‘no’ to TV, other hobbies and pursuits, all so we can sit elbow to elbow with Jesus in the Word and in prayer.

That is Cowdh.  It is there where we get precious words and not worthless ones.  It is there we get that special mission spoken to our lives from the Spirit.  It is there that the Word of Christ dwells richly in our heart, as Colossians 3:16 admonishes us to do.  We sit in the early morning hours, the late night hours or the days off, or whenever in that place of special friendship to shut out the world and to sit at Jesus’ feet.

I had a 10′ x 10′ prayer cabin built for the express purpose of having a place to go.  It is IMG_0973.jpgmy Cowdh. My Saturday wish is to be there, in quiet communion, uninterrupted.  My husband simply does not grasp the concept.  His Saturdays are to make noise, sound productive, run around to hunt, fish and to not burn daylight.  He may never get the concept of my prayer cabin, but I don’t care.

In Matthew 22:29 Jesus told the Sadducees that they were wrong because they didn’t know the Scriptures nor the power of God.  It is thru the Scriptures that we get to know power and the character of God.  Contrast that with Daniel 11:32 that simply says, “but the people who know their God shall stand firm (rise up) and take action.”

Your words are the joy and delight of my heart for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of Hosts.


Gospel Fluency

Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves…instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow up in every way into Him who is the head, that is, Christ.  Ephesians 4:13-15

JD Greear talked about growing in our knowledge of the gospel to become more intimate Gospel Fluencywith the Spirit in his book, Jesus Continued.  His intent is to call us to grow deeper in our knowledge of the gospel to experience the fullness of the Spirit.    Almost four years ago I watched a series of videos on Vimeo by Jeff Vanderstelt that takes JD Greear’s thoughts about growing in the knowledge of the gospel to another level.  Vanderstelt’s videos were on “Gospel Fluency.”  Finally in 2017 he put out a book with that title.  The videos are much better than the book.  I’ll put a link at the bottom of my post to his videos.

I’ve been thinking about Vanderstelt’s thoughts on ‘Gospel Fluency’ since I read the chapter about growing in the knowledge of the gospel to become more intimate and full in the Spirit.  I will summarize some of Vanderstelt’s thoughts because he puts things in ways I have not heard them before I watched his videos, or since:

  • Gospel fluency is speaking the truths of Jesus into the everyday stuff of life, so that we are changed in our marriages, relationships, spending and living because Jesus is in our life.
  • ‘Speaking the truth in love’ is more than just saying hard words to each other, like addressing character flaws or sin issues.  It is speaking the knowledge of the faith that builds people into maturity in Christ.
  • Ephesians 4: 21 tells us what the truth is that we’re supposed to be speaking: “the truth is in Jesus.”  Speak Jesus to one another.  Another way to say it is, ‘Speak the gospel, or the good news, to one another.’  You don’t just share the gospel to nonbelievers and then stop once they become Christians.  We should keep speaking the good news of Jesus to each other all the time to grow each other up to maturity.
  • Don’t ever drift away from Jesus to something else!  Jesus is what grows us up.  Don’t get to like our Bibles or our Bible studies better than Jesus.  Don’t lead people to church rather than leading them to Jesus.  Don’t just ask for prayer requests, ask for Jesus to work.   **Our prayer lives are about getting Jesus to live His life through us to empower us to live a new life.  The goal of our prayer time is that the Spirit would reveal the truths of God through Jesus and that we would cling to  Jesus as we pray.

**Make Jesus the solution, the everything!!  We lead people to Jesus and then we take them to something else.  We get to Jesus and then move on to something else.  Don’t do that.

So we must keep proclaiming Christ, the good news, the gospel.  We must be resolved to let nothing else be our good news.  We must become so versed in the gospel that we realize that it does answer everything in our existence.  This involves getting a bigger view of the gospel and letting it sink into more areas of our life.

How do you grow in gospel fluency?

  1.  Part of it has to do with making Jesus the center of everything in your life and the rest will fall into place.
  2. Being a part of a fellowship of believers where you are around others that live that out certainly helps.  It’s like getting better at bowling–it’s best worked out at a bowling alley and in a league.  Same thing with a church.
  3. For me, studying the Bible has been a big part of growing in learning more about this life of following Jesus.  But, as Vanderstelt so aptly put it: I can’t love studying the Bible, or my Bible, more than I love Jesus.  My quiet time has to lead me to Jesus each and every day.
  4. Sharing the good news with myself and those around me, applying it to the stuff of life, is the guts of growing up into maturity in Christ.   I need to ask myself “so what?” at the end of my quiet time, and let the Holy Spirit apply His convicting and probing work in my heart.  And then I need to do it.  As the Spirit leads, I also must share with those around me the good news of grace and freedom that applies to the everyday things of life.

Here is the link to Jeff Vanderstelt’s video’s:  Take the time to watch them.  They are well worth your time!

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/jeff-vanderstelt-on-gospel-fluency/

 


The Word Became Flesh

word-became-flesh.jpg

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.  1 Timothy 3:16

I was looking back in one of my old journals, and read this entry from July of 2015.  It captures the Christmas message in such a poignant way, that I thought it fitting to share it again today:

I was up at the County jail for a Bible study, which I host 2-3 times a month with whatever women will come.  Sometimes they come just to get out of their cell, but I’ll take that.  As long as they’re not disruptive, they get a chance to hear the Gospel.  Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Anyway, this particular evening in July brought out three Native American women.  Though they are from my community, they have a world view that is miles apart from my own.  I’ve learned that from the years of jail ministry.  I was to learn more this evening.  Two out of the three were women that I had known for years.  The third had come one other time, maybe a year before.  She seemed agitated from the start.  She sat flipping through another book until we got switched out of the library to another room.

My Bible study was on three different responses to Jesus–mad, sad and glad.  Mad, the people from Nazareth that tried to push Jesus off the cliff (furious); Sad, the rich young ruler in Luke 18; and I didn’t even get to glad and Zacchaeus in Luke 19.  I was still explaining what sin was.  I had already gone into a bit of detail about who Jesus was, that He was God himself who came from Heaven and took on human form as a baby and grew up and began His public ministry and then began His public ministry, doing miracles, announcing that He was the Promised One who came to save them from their sin.

I could see the one gal’s face get more and more angry, read to launch into an argument.  Wait for it, wait for it.  It was right around the sin explanation that she jumped in.  She said that Natives don’t have sin and Hell.  She said she knew a Catholic who just did what she wanted and then went to confessional and she thought that was lame.  I explained that that’s not repentance, which is turning from your sin.  “I get why you think that’s lame.”

I told her the Zacchaeus story was a good example of repentance.  We just started to read it when she yelled, “I would never place my trust in someone who put on a meat suit.”  I quietly said, “Come again?”  I wanted to make sure I heard that right.  She said firmly, “A dude that would take on a human form.  I would never let him be my God.”

I quickly answered, “That’s exactly what He had to do to pay the price for our sins, otherwise we would all face the death penalty and be sentenced an eternity in Hell.”  She countered, “We don’t have a Hell.”  I came back, “Oh yes, we all face that.”  I picked up my Bible and said, “This is the truth and Jesus declared, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life–no one comes to the Father, except through Me.’  One day we will all stand before this Jesus to give an account of what we have done.”

Her answer was, “That’s disrespectful.  That’s hateful.”  I answered, “Actually, in me telling you that, it’s the most loving thing I could do so you could have a chance to hear it and to ponder it.  The choice is then up to you.”  Then she backed down.

We both took a breath, and I said, “I like that ‘dude in a meat suit’ thing.  You’ve hit the nail on the head.  We went off on to a different point and kind of relaxed to move away from the intensity.  At the end of the night I said to her, “I hope I see you again some place, just not here.”  We both smiled in mutual respect.  I haven’t seen her since, but I still pray for her.

 


Take Up Thy Swords (of the Spirit)

BT-swordThis is taken from a Desiring God post on June 13, 2017 by Greg Morse, “A Challenge to Memorize Chapters.”  It goes along with my previous post from Psalm 119:11, “Thy Word have I stored up in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

It has resonated in my heart, perhaps finding a kindred memorizing spirit, someone who has put words to why I think memorizing is an important discipline in the Christian life:

It began in seminary.

That week, multiple professors mentioned that each student in the class ought to memorize Romans 8. I looked up Romans 8 — it was long. I had never memorized a whole chapter of the Bible before. As far as I was concerned, that wasn’t for average saints. It was for the extraordinary Christians — the kind who read Calvin in their free time and had Greek and Hebrew words tattooed on their ankles. Memorization, like Mark Twain said of the classics, is something everyone wants to have done but nobody wants to do. Maybe I could get through Psalm 23, I thought. Maybe.

But God kept after me, telling me to go to the Ninevah of memorization — I couldn’t hide.

I hobbled through the semester. After several months, I completed Romans 8 — I was astonished. I, the chief of forgetters could recite one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. And a question came to mind, if God could help me limp through memorizing Romans 8, what else could he help me memorize? My quest began there.

Daggers and Swords

I’ve learned that length of the text matters in memorizing. And, because I would have been a warmonger in another life, I think of different lengths of texts as different weapons.

Individual verses and smaller sections are daggers. Although the shortest in the soldier’s arsenal, these are for hand-to-hand combat. As in medieval times, the dagger was a last resort, a defense against ambush. Direct and to-the-point, daggers are golden promises found in Scripture to support when Satan assaults us unexpectedly. For example, in a moment of sexual temptation, “Flee!” can save your life (1 Corinthians 6:18). Every Christian soldier needs daggers.

Chapters, or larger sections of Scripture, are swords. Although longer and requiring more effort to master, swords were the medieval soldier’s most useful weapon. Swords were offensive, and carried by those expecting war. Broad swords (texts), are not only made up of daggers, but sharpen each dagger with context. The chapter draws you into the author’s thoughts, and makes greater, deeper sense of the individual verses. A dagger will save your life in a vulnerable moment, but you wouldn’t head into war without a sword. Memorizing chapters prepares us to go on the offensive against the enemy’s ranks.

Take Up Your Swords

My challenge concerns swords. Though daggers have vital uses, I challenge readers to memorize chapters of the Bible for at least four reasons:

1. Swords are not easily forgotten. The silver of memorization comes from the initial steps in memorization; the gold comes from sustaining it. When I only have daggers, I often forget I have them, and don’t revisit them consistently. I remember that I have memorized 39 verses in Romans 8, but I would forget that I memorized 39 individual daggers from all over the Bible. Memorizing chapters helps me remember what I’ve memorized so that I can review.

2. Swords help create discipline. Swords are the baby-bear of Christian memorization: not too short (dagger), but not too long (a whole book which we might call a spear). As we memorize longer sections of Scripture, we are forced to move last week’s verses from short-term to long-term memory. Long sections of Scripture cannot be memorized without discipline.

3. Swords arm us to love each other better. Although often neglected, God calls us to study those in our lives that we might stir them up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). After studying them, larger sections of Scripture can become a trustworthy playbook for love.

4. Swords make God’s word mobile. Mornings can get hectic. The best intentions can be interrupted by a screaming child, a distressing phone call, or a snoozed alarm. On such days, I can’t pull out my Bible and study the text on my way to work. But I can meditate on chapters I’ve memorized. Swords are the ideal length for ten to fifteen minutes of extended meditation.

How to Pick Your Swords

So how do you pick what to memorize? I suggest the following:

Pick chapters that aim at specific sin struggles. If busyness tempts you, memorize John 15. If adultery tempts you, memorize Proverbs 5. If apathy to the word tempts you, memorize Psalm 1. Pick specific swords to decapitate your sin.

Pick chapters that will minister to particular people in your life (see number three above).

Pick chapters that more explicitly display God’s majesty. One way to consistently pop the helium balloon of your own ego is to memorize texts that behold your God. Texts like Isaiah 40 or Revelation 5 humble the creature before his Creator.

Pick chapters that remind you of the life to come. Select swords that remind you that you are not home. Linger with founding pilgrims in Hebrews 11 or catch a glimpse of that coming day in Revelation 21.

Pick chapters that have gripped you. The Spirit grips individuals in specific ways. People have life-verses. I believe in having life-chapters. If the story of the prodigal son grips you, do not let it linger outside your heart as the elder brother, memorize it and bring it into your home.

A Glorious Army

Dream with me: What if every saint had two or three chapters written on their heart? What if everyone in your church or small group had two or three different swords ready for battle — to war against Satan and to strengthen the brothers and sisters fighting next to them? A member who lived by the still waters of Psalm 23 and beckoned others to come and sit. One who constantly abided in Jesus the Vine of John 15, and bid others to daily receive the same nourishment. One who taught the group how to bid sinners to come and drink freely from the wells of living waters as they remained submerged in Isaiah 55. What might that be like?

The Challenge

I’ve been encouraged by such saints and challenge you to be one.

One of my favorite spiritual questions to ask over the past two years has been: If you could memorize five chapters of the Bible, which five would you choose and why? You can learn a lot about someone and spur great conversations through this question. After the excitement rises with the prospect of memorizing five, I simply ask, why don’t you do it? Some roll their eyes, but some have embarked on the quest.

Now I extend the challenge to you. If you have never memorized a chapter, the challenge is to start with one. If you have a habit of memorizing, pick three and write them on your heart. The challenge: over a lifetime, write and sustain five different chapters (or longer sections of Scripture) on your heart.

There are my thoughts again: I went to a funeral in Greg’s church.  It was for a young couple’s baby who only lived several days.  I was expecting a mourning, defeated and grieving time.  Instead, I was met with a group of triumphant, expectant, Scripture quoting believers who held on by faith that God had something in store for this young couple.  One by one, twenty something friends stood up and quoted verses of hope in their prayers during the service.  It was an amazing service!  Those  believers had their swords ready for battle and they pulled them out, ready for use on that day.  It was a glorious army.


Guarding and Storing

storing up God's Word

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!  I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.  Psalm 119:9-11

How can we keep our way pure?  By guarding it, as prescribed in the Bible.  Let’s think about that word “guard” first.  In the New International Version, Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”  And in Proverbs 4:13, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”  We guard and protect the things we value.  There are some things that are really important that we don’t realize until later that we should have guarded it, but we didn’t.  We didn’t realize how important they were until much later, perhaps after we already suffered loss.

We need to guard our ways, our steps, our minds, our hearts and our lives.  We have an enemy of our soul, Satan, who is a roaring lion, as 1 Peter 5:8 instructs us: “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  NIV  How true.  We don’t even need him, we’re pretty good at destroying ourselves through an unrestrained feeding of our flesh.  Without self control empowered by the Holy Spirit  and a careful attention to our desires, they can drive us in destructive directions.   

The Bible is filled with commandments about how to guard our way.  There are the character sketches that God has given us that show us what happens when we don’t pay attention.  We have people like Lot, Jacob, Samson, Saul and many other real people who God inspired the writers of the Bible to record so that we might not make the same mistakes that they did.  As we read about those people, we are really reading about ourselves.  Their tendency to sin and grab for the wrong things are our same tendencies, because we share the same sin nature.

How do we emerge victorious?  We seek God with our whole hearts.  Not with a half hearted attempted, a short burst, or a sea of good intentions.  Our whole hearts.  No turning back.  And we hide God’s Word in our hearts that we may stand undaunted against the desires that “wage war against our soul,” as 1 Peter 2:11 warns.  We store up God’s truth,  His promises and His cautions and we pull them out when we need to use them.

arrow.gifMy challenge to you is to actually commit Scripture to memory, to store up God’s word into your heart.  It has been my habit since childhood.  I have gone from memorizing verses, to chapters and now several books of the Bible.  Has it kept me from sinning?  I know that hiding chunks of God’s Word in my heart has kept it there to pull out when needed, and for the Holy Spirit to bring it to mind to convict, guide, redirect and to counsel me on the spot in a variety of ways.

What is your habit of memorizing Scripture, and how has it benefited you?