Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's top of the list; priority #1. Near the end of his life, in his last written words, he wants to make sure we are focused on key priorities.

"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time." (1 Timothy 2:1-6)

Prayer tops the list of priorities from the perspective of the elderly apostle Paul, but he clarifies that it is to be prayer with a real purpose. Prayer must focus on the key priorities of God; namely, His desire for the salvation of all people. That's why we are specifically directed to pray for government leaders: to keep government off our backs so that we can lead quiet and peaceably lives as we go about His kingdom business. God's earnest desire is for the salvation of all and their understanding of truth. That truth is clearly described in verse five: an awareness and understanding of the one true God and His appointed mediator, the man Christ Jesus.

All-encompassing prayer with a purpose. That's priority number one from an old man to the next generation. And the older I get the more I see that priority with greater clarity. From my vantage point it seems that believers are generally committed to the priority of prayer, but perhaps not prayer with a purpose. We faithfully pray for everyone we are aware of who is sick, unemployed, going through family and marital problems, etc. And many faithfully pray for government leaders. But the WHY of our prayers is as important as the WHAT. Do we pray for people with physical and emotional needs because we are kind-hearted and because it's the right thing to do? Or do we pray for these needs knowing that God has a greater purpose amidst them - for their salvation and knowledge of truth?

What would happen if God's people focused intently in prayer for all they know who are lost and those who have wandered from the truth? I suspect a mighty revival and renewal such as has not been seen in modern times.

Thanksgiving is to be a pervading attitude as we pray, as Paul pointed out to Timothy. On the eve of the most noble and honorable of our cultural celebrations, may thanksgiving permeate our prayers as we express gratitude to our Father who has given us all things and ultimately His great plan for salvation and truth. How thankful I am for being privileged to know and embrace His plan and to participate with Him in His most important purpose.


Friday, November 21, 2008

What's the point? As a no-nonsense person I often ask that question regarding what I see and hear. More times than I can count I've muttered to myself, while listening to someone ramble on about something, "will you hurry up and get to the point!" I am much better able to handle the WHAT if I know the WHY.

What's the point of Bible teaching and preaching? As one who preaches and teaches several times each week I am constantly trying to keep this key question in focus. Those who listen, however, might suggest that the question isn't enough in focus:)

The most concise description of the purpose of Bible teaching and preaching is found in 1 Timothy 1:5 - "the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." This three-fold goal is a vitally important focus for all who teach and preach, and should serve as a checklist for all who receive instruction. If Bible instruction doesn't meet this criteria it is not serving its intended purpose.

It is interesting that "love from a pure heart" is first on the list. If Jesus has reserved love for our brothers and sisters as the identifying mark of His followers (John 13:35), it should come as no surprise that this would be top of the list for instruction's goal.

The goal of "a good conscience" follows next. True Bible instruction does not confuse, but instead makes plain the plan of God. The kingdom standards of the Sermon On the Mount, in particular, clearly stress the attitudes and lifestyle of believers. These clear teachings allow us to walk in obedience with a clear conscience.

Lastly, the goal of "a sincere faith" is listed. True Bible instruction plainly sets forth the great truths of the Bible and appeals to hearers for faith based upon truth. A sincere faith cannot be based upon personal opinions and confusing man-made doctrines. The simple truth about the One true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent, as well as the great message about the kingdom of God, form the basis for a sincere faith. Faith grows when hearers are exposed to this life-changing truth.

What's the point? Bible instruction that is on target develops love, a good conscience and a sincere faith. May you grow in each of these areas through both personal study and instruction.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New paths present new vistas. We won't see different scenery if we always travel the same path. For years I've followed a simple Bible reading plan but recently I felt a need for a change. The Book of Numbers that I had been reading is part of God's inspired word but it just isn't what I need right now. So, I sat silently before God and asked Him to direct me to a passage of study. I soon felt these words impressed upon me: "consider the priorities Paul pointed out to Timothy". That prompting led me to 1 & 2 Timothy where I've thus far discovered some key priorities.

Dealing with deceptive teaching is first on Paul's list: "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith." ( 1 Timothy 1:3-4 )

There is a vast array of subjects that can become the focus of Christian teaching and study. The key is to focus on the top priorities; that which coincides with the great plan of God in
"furthering the administration of God which is by faith". Speculative teaching about who the antichrist will be and how present-day events factor into the return of Christ may be interesting but are not worthy of concentrated focus. That which clearly pertains to "the administration of God" must be front and center, and that phrase largely refers to the kingdom of God plan. It seems that the best antidote to deceptive teaching is clear teaching on the truth about the kingdom; sadly, a much-neglected subject.

People have asked, "Is it really that important that we understand what Jesus taught about the kingdom? Isn't it enough to just believe in Jesus?" The best answer I can offer is to encourage study of the four gospels. Is it possible to learn about Jesus and not see His priority on the kingdom? Does His 3-1/2 year obsession with teaching and demonstrating the kingdom reveal anything to us about our study and teaching priority? I think you know the answer.

The best deception preventative is focus on indisputable truth. I've recommended to more people than I can recall that they study the four gospels and carefully note every mention of Jesus about the kingdom and to consider the question, "What did Jesus mean when He spoke about the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven?" The answers to this question will literally be life changing.

What is the focus of your study? Speculative topics are interesting but can easily become the enemy of the best - the established indisputable truth. May your reading and study be focused on the key priorities of God's truth.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

They carried boards for the Lord. And shovels, forks, buckets, and curtains. These were the duties of the Levites, as listed in Numbers 3 and 4. Their tasks seemed menial, but they all contributed to the important work of God's tabernacle, His "portable dwelling place" among the Jewish people.

The work that God calls each of us to may not seem glamorous or glorious, but be assured that it is important. If, like the Levites, we only saw ourselves as carrying boards for the Lord we might not view our work as being very important. But, if we saw the greater purpose of the work, we could declare, "I'm participating in the work of God's holy tabernacle."

In Colossians 3 we read, "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." ( Colossians 3:23-24 )

Whether our task is handing out bulletins at church on Sundays, mopping floors for a living, building cars on an assembly line, teaching a Sunday School class, or serving on the church board, when seen from its true perspective as working "for the Lord rather than for men" it is a vitally important task.

Burnout occurs when we work hard but see little value in our work. Each of us are capable of working even harder when we see our work as important and fulfilling.

From the perspective of the Kingdom of God, nothing is unimportant. Everything that every believer does is training for one day ruling the world with the coming Christ. Revelation 20:6 reminds us that believers are destined to "reign with Him (Jesus) for a thousand years".

I sometimes think of the multitude of tasks to be done in running a worldwide government. They are likely not so different from that needed today to run a government. There is a direct correlation between what we do now and what Jesus will need in running the government of God on earth. Every task and ability will be needed!

Whatever you do today, remember that it is not a task or a job in and of itself; it serves a far greater purpose. You are employed as a government worker in the Kingdom of God and your task and job is invaluable training for ruling the world in the future.

Keep up the good work, Kingdom government worker!


Thursday, November 06, 2008

I participated in the "silent witness" program. It wasn't deliberate participation, mind you. It was the way I chose to live my life in high school. Sure, people who knew me knew that I was a Christian and involved in a local church but I did anything but advertise my faith. I wouldn't call it denial, per se, but in reality it was in the most subtle way.

The "bull-in-a-china-shop" Apostle Peter was anything but subtle in everything he did, including his denial of Jesus. His very public denials no doubt shook him to the very core of his being. In an instant prideful self-reliance melted into remorse and deep regret. He no longer saw himself as a faithful disciple, but rather a disgraced outsider. But it all changed just as quickly as it began.

"So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My lambs." He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Shepherd My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Tend My sheep." ( John 21:15-17 )

Three times Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to negate his denials. The evidence of Peter's affirmations would be found in a three-fold description of the same charge: "Tend My lambs ... Shepherd My sheep ... Tend My sheep". Love for the Savior would be evidenced in care for his followers.

As different as our personalities are, I find a kindred spirit in Peter. My more subtle denials have also been confronted by the Savior and my renewed love and affirmation is found in shepherding the flock.

The most genuine expression of love for our Savior is tender care for His people. It is caring enough to listen ... to instruct ... to help ... to be involved. it is not lording-over control but humble-under service. It is truly placing the needs of others first, and nothing is more humanly impossible.

It isn't a defiant "if-you-love-me-prove-it" approach, but Jesus does call us to evidence our love by tenderly caring for His people. How will we express that love today?


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It was the most shocking news of all time. No newspaper headline could possibly have been bold enough to carry the full weight of the news. To this day nothing has surpassed these electrifying headlines: JESUS RISEN FROM THE DEAD.

The biblical record of this extraordinary event is somewhat frenetic and even a little confusing. And yet this punctuates the shock and awe experienced by those completely unprepared for the seemingly impossible.

In John's account it begins with the report of of a disturbed gravesite ( John 20:1 ). The descriptive terms used for the activity that follows is especially revealing: "So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved ... So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first" ( John 20:2-4 )

Time and familiarity have a way of removing the utter shock and frantic activity associated with key unexpected events. Such is the case with contemporary momentous events, such as the assassination of President Kennedy and the attempted assassination of President Reagan, or the Challenger and Columbia disasters. As these events recede into history so does memory of the hectic activity surrounding them.

The events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus potentially lose their impact for us as well. The shocking and unexpected has become part of Christian routine and ritual. Who goes to church on Resurrection morning expecting to hear that Jesus is still in the tomb? It's almost like an annual ritual of watching the movie, "Titanic" - is anyone surprised to find that in the end the ship sinks?

The relevance of the resurrection of Jesus is the contemporary shock and awe. It is the unexpected activity and work of the resurrected Jesus today. It's like Pentecost - no one expected the dramatic and life-changing outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Faith is the vehicle for the unexpected. Hebrews 11 supplies us with ample evidence. Resolute faith breathes life into mundane existence and anticipates life-changing encounters and activities through the risen Christ. It anticipates the conversion of the most hardened sinner ... help in helpless situations ... victory in the face of defeat ... the triumph of truth over the lies of the enemy.

The resurrection of Jesus is the realm of the unexpected. May the risen Christ surprise and overwhelm you today with His presence and activity.