Friday, February 22, 2008

He was caught in the act. A friend spotted him in a solitary place and what he saw had a profound effect. He caught him writing a single Bible verse on a 3x5 card and stuffing it in his pocket. But what he learned about that simple act was what made the difference.

The Bible is designed not just to be read but to be applied. God instructs us to "observe to do" - read so that we can heed. It's about shaping our lifestyle and our character, which takes us back to that simple act of writing a verse on a 3x5 card and carrying it around all day. This was a long-time practice of a brother in the Lord who not only disciplined himself to read a portion of God's word every day, but to also look for that one verse that he felt the Lord had for him to guide him that day. By writing it out and referring to it often during the day, he was "hiding God's word in his heart" (Psalm 119:11). This simple act was an important step of obedience.

The Apostle John found great joy in knowing of those who obeyed the truth:

"For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 3-4)

Simple disciplines such as writing a verse a day on a 3x5 card and committing it to memory are keys to obedience. Anything that we can do to integrate God's word into our lives is a valuable discipline. As such we prove ourselves to be "doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

It might sound cliché but the challenge is to get into the Word so that the Word can get into our lives. A lifetime of reading and heeding will result in a Christ-like lifestyle that will keep us on the road to the Kingdom of God. And that's the road I most want to travel.

It's the simple things that can trip us up. I used to work a part-time job installing and servicing commercial telephone systems. On more than one occasion my search for a complicated problem overshadowed an obvious simple problem. While looking for an electronic problem with a circuit board, I failed to consider a problem as simple as an unplugged line cord.

The simple issues in the Christian life can easily trip us up too. Anyone with a marginal understanding of the Bible knows that Christians are called to be loving, but do we really understand what that means?

"Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it ." (2 John 5-6)

Love is grounded in truth. Certainly love expresses itself emotionally but the truest indication of real love is obedience to the commandments of Christ. Love is defined as an obedient walk.

Not only is love grounded in faithfulness to the commandments of Christ, it is also solidly based upon the person of Christ. Immediately following a true definition of love, the Apostle John warns against a distortion of the truth about the Christ:

"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. " (2 John 7-9)

The connection seems clear: genuine love is characterized by an obedient lifestyle to the commandments of Christ, based upon a true understanding of the Christ. To distort the truth about Christ is to erode the very foundation upon which love is built.

While truth and love are designed to be inseparable, there all too often is tension between the two. Those who hold rigidly to truth can easily be critical, judgmental and unloving while those who place a priority on love can easily be accepting of both truth and untruth. Love is designed to be grounded in truth, not an enemy of it.

Perhaps the important lesson and application for us today is that fostering a love for truth should cause us to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). To love based on truth is to love enough to share truth.

May our love be firmly grounded in truth and may that foundation of truth produce a compassionate love that burdens us for truth in the lives of others.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I like people who get right to the point. I remember a recent phone conversation in which, after exchanging pleasantries, the person I had called asked, "and what was it you called for?" It was assumed that there was a reason for my call (there was) and it was time to get to the point.

I especially appreciate the Bible books which have a clear "purpose statement". The letter of 1 John is one example:

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. " (1 John 5:13)

John's purpose in this short letter is to remind those who have life-changing faith in Jesus as the Son of God have the assurance of eternal life. That belief is based upon "the name of the Son of God". As our Creator has a personal name, so does the Messiah, the Son of God.

This assurance of eternal life is based upon a clear understanding of the terms that God has set forth:

"And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." (1 John 5:11-12)

Amidst centuries of confusion, it is important to understand the critically-significant phrase, "Son of God". God has provided an exclusive avenue to eternal life through His Son, and if we do not have "the Son of God" we do not have that life.

The assurance of eternal life is the basis for confidence in prayer:

"This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him." (1 John 5:14-15)

Those who have come to terms with the meaning of the title, "Son of God", and have anchored their faith in this understanding are those who have full assurance of effective prayer. The assurance of eternal life based upon firm belief in the Son of God is the pathway to effective prayer.

Belief is designed to transform. Believing in God's provision of eternal life through the Son of God ought to transform us into people who regularly and boldly come before the throne of God in prayer to seek out that which will enlarge and advance the Kingdom of God.

What ideas and thoughts are in your mind today concerning the Lord's Kingdom and work? Perhaps the Lord has placed them there for you to seek from Him. He is eager to answer our prayers of faith for the cause of His Kingdom.

"Father, thank you for the assurance you have given those who believe in the Son of God. And thank you for the promise of effective Kingdom prayer. Move each believer today to seek from You the Kingdom dreams you have placed in our hearts. As we seek and as You answer may our faith and confidence grow so that we can become even more effective and fervent in prayer. In the name of Jesus, the Son of God, we pray. Amen."


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Patience is a virtue, but it doesn't happen to be a virtue of mine. If I have a "thorn in the flesh" as Paul did, impatience would be it. Fortunately, God is not like me:

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

God's patience is our opportunity. In God's gracious patience He is withholding judgment upon a wicked world. His patience is the opportunity for repentance and evangelism.

But, lest we mistake God's patience for inaction, we are reminded that He WILL act:

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10)

With abrupt suddenness, God's patience will end and His judgment will begin. At the end of His patience the very elements of all matter ("atomos", or "atoms") will be broken open to unleash all their energy in fiery destruction.

We live in a world that is totally oblivious to this certainty. The frenetic pace which people live their lives, and the indulgent, self-centered focus of their lives is a denial of this coming certainty. As believers seeking to live in God's grace we are kindred spirits with Noah in advance of the flood, and righteous Lot living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Our burden is to live unstained in the world even as we hold out God's grace to all who will receive.

With an appreciation of God's patient grace and an awareness of His coming judgment, Peter concludes his short letter with this important admonition:

"but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." (2 Peter 3:18)

In order to grow we must be watered and nourished, like a plant. It is imperative that we "plant" ourselves amidst the Word, prayer, and the supportive Bible-based fellowship of a body of believers. As we focus on the grace of God shown in Jesus, and the knowledge of God personified in Him, we are productive and protected from God's certain judgment.

Savor God's grace today even as you extend it to others.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'm painfully aware of my own deficiencies, as most people probably are. I could easily compile a list of flaws and personal shortcomings (which would not necessarily be the most healthy exercise for personal self-esteem).

Perhaps a more difficult task is to grasp this incredible truth:

"His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Did you notice this great all-inclusive truth: He has "granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness"? None of us are deficient due to personality flaws or character defects; He has made avail;able to us EVERYTHING needed. The challenge before us, then, is to appropriate all of the resources freely available. It's not like going to the refrigerator to see IF there is anything to eat; it's going to the refrigerator to see WHAT is available.

With this assurance in mind, we are then challenged to take appropriate steps to acquire that which our Father makes freely available:

"Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:5-8)

Going back to our refrigerator illustration, it doesn't matter what's in it if we don't make the effort to open the door and remove some of its contents. All of God's resources do us little good unless we take certain steps to receive what He offers.

If we are have a true knowledge of our Lord Jesus it will be through the pathway of character development that can only be accomplished through the resource of the Spirit of God within. As we devote ourselves to the disciplines that are in harmony with God's Spirit we allow true character to be formed in us.

Rising early for a quiet time with the Lord at the beginning of the day is not easy for me but I see more clearly that this time is valuable in surrendering to the power and presence of the Lord Who desires to form His character within me. Discipline is the pathway to character.

"Father, we rejoice in the abundant resources you freely make available to us. Direct our wills so that we would discipline ourselves to receive Your resources.Thank you for the assurance that we are neither useless or unfruitful as we see Your character formed in us. In Jesus' name. Amen"


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Are you pro-active or reactive? We basically live life intentionally or defensively (in response to what happens to us). The popular phrase today for an intentional life is purpose-driven.As one convinced of the ultimate purpose of our lives, I believe that "kingdom-driven" best describes that purpose. And what does a Kingdom-driven life look like? A very helpful and practical "snapshot" is found in the following passage:

"prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:13)

A kingdom-driven life is firmly grounded in the reality of life while at the same focused on the hope of the Age To Come. Today's reality calls for readiness so therefore it is vitally important to "prepare your minds for action". No athlete would dare go out on the playing field or court without mentally preparing for the game. An athlete has to be ready for action with a mental grasp of defense and offense options. And so in the kingdom-driven life: we need to be mentally prepared both offensively and defensively - ready for the attacks of the enemy as well as ready to seize the Spirit-initiated opportunities.

As kingdom-driven people we also "keep sober in spirit". That doesn't mean we live life with sad, downcast faces and expressions, but rather that we properly assess life's priorities and the world's perspective.

Ultimately, kingdom-driven people fix their hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the return of Jesus Christ. That hope becomes our fixed navigation point in life.

As a young teenager I once had a job discing a plowed field. The job was pretty simple: disc straight rows back and forth while making sure that the disc was set at the proper depth. At the end of the day I could tell that my employer was less than pleased with my work. My straight rows were anything but straight. I had checked my progress on the tractor that day by looking back where I had been instead of where I was going. I learned the hard way that the secret of discing straight rows was to find an object ahead, across the field, to serve as my navigation point.

In this age of Global Positioning Systems, navigating with pinpoint accuracy is possible whether in traffic, hiking, or steering a ship. The "grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" serves as both our navigation point as well as our source of energy and strength today.

May 1 Peter 1:13 serve as a valuable tool for each of us today as we live kingdom-driven lives.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It was a huge risk. The young man had made a big mistake and felt the need to confess it before the church in order to continue in his role with worship leadership. The adult Midweek class was the chosen setting for the confession, and the time came to let the young man share what was on his heart. Tense silence filled the room after his candid and heartfelt confession. And then it happened: an elderly man stood up, walked over to the young man, and gruffly told him to stand up. What happened next shocked everyone present: he threw his arms around the young man and tearfully confessed his guilt over the same mistake as a young man himself. A spontaneous response of affirmation and forgiveness by all present followed, and as I went home that night I sensed that this was what was meant in James 5:16 -

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."

The release of forgiveness is truly found in confession. Many Christians harbor guilt over past sin because confession has only been a private matter between themselves and God. The forgiveness available through private confession in prayer is completely effective from God's perspective (1 John 1:9), but perhaps it is insufficient on a personal level. Perhaps James' admonition to confess our sins to one another is important in order for us to experience true release and forgiveness. Words of forgiveness and affirmation as well as physical touch from another member of the family of God are powerful in conveying God's forgiveness.

The carte blanche offer of effectiveness in prayer follows the appeal to confess our sins to one another. We limit our prayer potential if we are unwilling to risk confession to at least one other believer.

Confession is risky business. It requires the trust and confidentiality of the person or persons to whom we confess. But confession and the resulting forgiveness gives authenticity and accountability to the body of Christ. This trust and accountability creates a realism that is vitally important both to spiritual health and the impact of the body of Christ on the world.

"Father, lead each of us to at least one person we can totally trust with our confession, so that our lives can be authentic and forgiveness can be real. Through the risk of confession and the release of forgiveness may we be liberated to be effective people of prayer. In Jesus' name. Amen"