Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Study in Habakkuk Pt. 1

There was a blackout in NYC in July of 1977. It happened after businesses had closed for the evening and owners had gone home. Looting and vandalism were widespread, hitting 31 neighborhoods, including the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Possibly the hardest hit were Crown Heights, where 75 stores on a five-block stretch were looted, and Bushwick, where arson was rampant with some 25 fires still burning the next morning. Thirty-five blocks of Broadway were destroyed: 134 stores looted, 45 of them set ablaze. Thieves stole 50 new Pontiacs from a Bronx car dealership. In Brooklyn, people were seen backing up cars to stores, tying ropes around the security grates, pulling the grates away and then looting the stores. 550 police officers were injured overnight and 4,500 looters were arrested. How does a blackout change the law: do not steal?

Thus far this year, 187 people have been murdered in Chicago. 601 were killed last year. Isn’t there a law against that?

Thus far this year, over 13,000 people in America have died as a result of a DUI accident. Isn’t driving under the influence against the law?

Thus far this year, 2200 accounts of theft have occurred in just the Greenspoint area of Houston. Isn’t there a law against that?

Friday, a week ago in Sante Fe, 8 students and 2 teachers were killed by a fellow student, 13 more students and adults were wounded. Everything he did to commit that crime was against the law. Yet he still destroyed the lives and families of so many.

After a moment of silence for Sante Fe at an award show, Kelly Clarkson said what many seem to agree with. She said: “I’m so tired of a moment of silence. How about a moment of action.” That sounds responsible but the action many have in mind is imposing more restrictions. The problem is, every crime committed violates some restriction.

The need is transformation. A transformation of society, politics, leadership, communities, schools, families but especially individuals.

When the Nation of Israel came out of Egypt, they had no workable society. They had been living within the Egyptian culture for 400 years. They were a blend of Egyptian thought, practices and religious culture, and had no defined system for worshipping God. All they had were stories of how God had worked in the lives of their ancestors. They had no Scripture to help clarify who they were as God’s people. So God had to set them apart by laying out a structure for them to live as His people. He gave them 10 Commandments. The first four told them who they would be before Him: No other gods, no idols or images, people who respected the name of God and honored the Sabbath day.

The other six commandments were to create a society for the mutual benefit of all within it. Where people honored their parents, didn’t kill each other, preserved the sacred bond of marriage, didn’t take what didn’t belong to them, told the truth and didn’t think so much about what other’s had that they might be tempted to take it as their own.

One day a young lawyer came to Jesus to ask Him which of all the laws (there were over 613 by then) was the most important.  

Matt 22:36-40 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, " 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

There is a key word Jesus used to tell there is something that makes these commandments work. Obviously its not writing them down, etching them in stone, displaying them for all to see. The word is depend. Depend means, for the commands to work, they needed a powerful motivation. That motivation was love.

If I don’t love God with all my heart, soul and mind, I will not limit my worship to only Him, or refrain from having idols and images that capture my heart. Neither will I hold the name of God to the highest honor, or set apart a day to draw into Him.

Until I care about others as much as I care about myself, I won’t respect them, their stuff or their lives.

It is not having restrictions, rules, commands or laws that make us civil. It’s having the right motivation to obey. Without love I will not honor of God or respect others.

Matt 24:12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.

That’s one of those catch 22 issues. What keeps lawlessness in check is a society that loves God and neighbor. When that love grows cold, lawlessness increases. When lawlessness increases, people’s love grows cold. It is the tipping point of the scale.

Is there a connection with violence and removing God from our schools? Is there a disintegration of morals in our society because we have no higher reason to be good than what keeps us out of trouble? Is the anti-Christian movement that is so blatant in politics driving us away from the only One who can preserve us. Has the denial of the principles upon which our nation was founded changed who we are?

Think about Jesus’ message to the church in Laodicea: Rev 3:14-17 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…

What was their problem? They had lost their passion for God. Their burning hot love for Him had gone room temperature. Going room temperature means adapting to the temperature surrounding them. Add cold to hot and you get lukewarm. Instead of influencing society they had allowed it to influence them.

1Tim 4:1-2 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars, seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,

What is the faith some will fall away from: the faith that demonstrates righteous.

2Tim 3:1-5 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

Because their primary motivation in life will be love of self instead of love of God and others, they will violate every command God gave for a society to operate justly.

So, what’s the source of the problem for school killings, thefts, murders, DUI’s, adultery, jealously, moral decay, relative truth? We have taken God out of the mainstream of life and relegated Him to a building. The California state legislature right now is seeking to ban the Bible from public expression. If the proponents get their way it will be against the law to mention, read or use the Bible in public or to express one’s faith outside of a church facility. In their opinion God is the problem and must be removed from society.

I have imagined the fulfillment of later day prophecies all my life but never imagined I’d see them with my own eyes. Without a transformation, we can only spiral further down.

Habakkuk experienced this in his own time. When things had deteriorated so much, God had to bring an end to life as His people knew it. Prophets had long prophesied about this destruction that was coming, the reason for it and what to expect.

Hab 1:2-4 How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, "Violence!" Yet You do not deliver. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.

Habakkuk was writing as a prophet in the early stages of his calling. He saw the deterioration. He saw that the righteous had been beaten down by the wicked. He saw lawlessness increase as people’s love grew cold. Justice that is to hold a society together was perverted. And he didn’t have a personal word from God to help him understand why this was going on and what God was going to do about it. All he saw was the evidence his nation had lost the desire for God.

How did they get there?

Brief history: In the days of Samuel, the people had wanted to be like the other kingdoms and have a king over them instead of God. God told Samuel to anoint Saul even though they were rejecting Him as being their King. David followed Saul and established the glory of the Kingdom being under a man but led by God. Solomon took over after David and began to pollute the nation by disregarding God’s instructions of not marrying foreign women. Why was that a problem? They brought with them a worship of pagan gods. Solomon not only did this but flaunted it, ending up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. He polluted the purity of singular devotion to God which affected the nation from then on. The nation divided after his death. The Southern Kingdom called Judah was led by Rehoboam and the Northern Kingdom called Israel was led by Jeroboam. Judah remained fairly faithful to God but Israel’s unfaithfulness began immediately.

1Kings 14:7-10 Go, say to Jeroboam, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel, "Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you--yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back—therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam.

But more so: 2Kings 17:22 Then Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the LORD and made them commit a great sin. The sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them.

Jeroboam not only compromised his own life, but drove the people to disregard God and worship pagan gods instead.

Ps 135:15-18 The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear, nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, everyone who trusts in them.

Instead of becoming like the God who made them, they were becoming like the idols they worshipped. You can understand God’s frustration.

The result was the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C. that dissolved the Northern Kingdom. Okay, but Habakkuk was in Judah. How did this affect them?

Because the Northern and Southern Kingdoms were all the same family of the Children of Israel, there was cross-pollination that polluted the hearts of the kings and people.

In the later days of Judah, there had been a string of kings who followed Jeroboam’s legacy. That string was broken by King Josiah who returned the nation to God. But when he died, his son Jehoiakim became king. The summary of his life is: 2Kings 23:37 He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.

Which brings us back to Habakkuk. It was Jehoiakim who was the king when Habakkuk wrote of his distress over all that was going on around him. Jehoiakim’s disregard for God opened the window of evil. Habakkuk saw it everywhere.

Jeremiah wrote of Jehoiakim: Jer 22:17, 21 But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion. I spoke to you in your prosperity; but you said, 'I will not listen!' This has been your practice from your youth, that you have not obeyed My voice.

Then God enacted the fulfillment of all He had had prophesied against Judah. 2Kings 24:1-3 In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. The LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken through His servants the prophets. Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight…

Remember the Billboards of messages from God? Don’t make me come down there! God judges evil harshly. Even in the lives of His children. Not for revenge because they have forsaken Him, but for correction to restore them to fellowship.

The result of God’s actions has always been with reason and purpose. Isa 17:7-8 In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. 

When things have gotten so far away from God’s design, the only way back is transformation, renewing ourselves to who He is and what He expects. In the day of destruction, historically, men have seen the futility of life without God and looked to Him again. It’s time for America to do the same.

So, here’s Habakkuk, looking at things crumbling around him, turning His attention to the Lord and asking God when He is going to do something about it. Ever been there? Next week, God will tell Him His plan and Habakkuk won’t like what God’s going to do.

  1. The complexity of creation demands a creator.
  2. The God who created also created the structure under which all that He created can live.
  3. In Society, for that structure to work, there must be acknowledgement of and accountability to the God who designed it.
  4. Without having God as most precious and holding others in high esteem, rules and restrictions have no motivation other than the conscience of man.
  5. If that conscience is seared, man will be highly irresponsible, loving himself first and foremost to the neglect of God and others.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Applying the Word

A teacher told her students to clear off their desks and get ready for the test. One girl said, “I didn’t know we were having a test today.” The teacher said, “I told the whole class yesterday.” “But you didn’t tell me!”

When we fail to make personal application of an inclusive statement we are the ones who suffer the loss of the benefits of that statement.

Watch people drive and you realize, though all of them know the rules of the road, many feel somehow exempt from obeying them. A stop sign doesn’t necessarily mean stop. The speed limit is a suggested speed. Not texting while driving applies to others, not them.

For some reason we have a disconnect between general statements and whether those statements apply to us. Rules are simply guidelines and not absolutes.

A man, after putting the finishing touches on a fresh concrete driveway, went inside to enjoy a glass of lemonade when his little neighbor boy walked across the new driveway. He yelled at the boy. His wife said, “Why did you yell at him? I thought you liked little boys.” “I like little boys in the abstract, I just don’t like them in the concrete.”

That’s like Linus saying, “I love mankind; it’s the people I can’t stand!”

The Bible is full of broad, inclusive commands and promises that are true of everyone. But though they include everyone, they are intended to be applied individually.

Like an antibiotic cream that can cure skin infections, but must be applied to your infection to do you any good. Or like filling a prescription your doctor gave you but not taking it to get its benefits.

Ex 12:22-23 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.

Truth: Blood on the lintel and doorposts will protect you from the death angel passing by. But it you don’t apply it, you won’t get the advantage of that truth.

Jonah 3:4-6 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.

Reached – apply – touched – the moment when the general message became specific to their lives. What God said affects me.

Neh 8:2-9 Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.

Key: they were reading (or listening) with understanding. They understood what God said applied to them.

Pro 4:7 The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Wisdom – knowledge
Understanding – insight
I know what it says. What do I do with it?

When I was growing up I was told to read the Bible for knowledge, don’t mark in the Bible, don’t throw the Bible. I remember the moment I first understood something in the Bible. I was reading the Prodigal Son Story in Luke 15 and suddenly I had this insight: we’re all prodigals. We’ve all wandered away from God. Then it hit me: I’m a prodigal. It was my first experience of applying Scripture to my own life.

Apply: make personal – taking truths and fitting them into our lives. If God said…how then shall I live?

Apply means we intentionally connect what the Bible says with what that means to us. We choose to close the gap between hearing truth and doing what it says.

James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
Delude: to convince ourselves to believe a lie – that what we hear has no bearing on our personal lives.

An older lady went out the door one Sunday and said to her pastor, “That was a wonderful sermon, Pastor. Everything you said applies to someone I know.”

James 1:25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

Vs. 22 – plural          vs. 25 – singular

In Scripture, God will make a statement which is true of everyone, then touch us with the insight that that truth is for us. Here is a word for everyone. What are you going to do about it?

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
World – all-inclusive       Whoever – specific individuals

Because God so loved the whole world, He made salvation available to all, but only those who accept the gift will get the gift. Which means the general statement is true but to benefit by it requires personal response. I must place my name into the promise.

John 8:2-12 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."
Speculation: Context: without sin. So, He wrote something relative to sins. Then, likely, wrote their names beside each one they had committed.

Vs. 12 Then Jesus again spoke to them [crowd], saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."

Spoke to them, is plural, the one following me, he, is singular. The general invitation became a personal invitation. I provide the way out of darkness. Want out of the darkness? You, come follow Me.

John 8:30-32 As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Speaking to all who believed with a general invitation, but knowing all who believed will not take the steps toward this freedom by continuing in His word.

The promise of freedom is real, but only with the application of that promise does it become real in each one’s life.

John 8:43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? [Answer] Because you cannot hear My word.

Understand – where’s your insight?

Hear – doesn’t mean they cannot receive the sounds of His voice but will not receive the message of what He’s saying.

Literal idea: Swindoll: "My Word makes no progress in you." Has no effect on you. The seed of the word that has been scattered into your heart is bearing no fruit. You are not applying what I say to your life. You are not letting My Word touch you.

Why did Jesus touch so many people? To make His healing specific.

Mat 8:3 Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Mat 8:15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him.

Mat 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.

Luke 4:40 While the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and laying His hands on each one of them, He was healing them. [Healing all He had touched.]

He could have healed all within a certain radius. But by His touch He was applying His healing power to meet specific needs.

Touching made His ability to heal personal. It turned the promise that all who come to Him can be healed, into a message that when they come to Him they will be healed.

In high school, my Algebra teacher said the process was as important as getting the right answer. So she graded the answer and how we got to that answer. We read Scripture and know the answer. What’s the process for that answer becoming our answer?

Seek to understand: 
  1. Is this a general statement true to everyone or is it localized to a unique time and place in the past? [Some laws no longer apply.]
  2. If it is a general statement for everyone, can I change the pronouns from plural to singular and make it a statement for me?
  3. If I make this statement personal, what must I do differently in my life if for this truth to touch my need? How do I do this word?
  4. Why would I want to do this? Is my ultimate desire to honor God by doing His Word or am I just wanting Him to fix a problem? If all I want is just the benefit and not the benefactor, I should not count on the benefit.
  5. What if I do nothing?

This is not an exercise in gaining some kind of religious blessing. It is trusting in the privilege of God’s word accomplishing in our lives what He has sent it to accomplish.

What is behind this privilege? God has called me to trust Him specifically. But if I don’t, I will be refusing my ultimate help and may end up with greater needs than the one that started the whole process.

To find out if an inclusive Scripture has a personal application to me, I must ask:
  • Do I sense God is speaking to me through this verse?
  • Is there something in this verse that connects with my need?
  • Is there a promise to accept?
  • Is there a sin to avoid?
  • Is there a lie to deny?
  • Is there a hope to hang onto?
  • Is there a change required?
  • Is there something I must do for the promise to be enacted in my situation?

When God touches me with His Word, He often takes a general statement and makes it a specific message for me. When He does, that message becomes my personal word to cling to, rely on, hope in and count on.

  1. A promise in Scripture remains true whether we accept it or not.
  2. If we accept it, the advantages it claims become ours and we can count on them.
  3. If we reject it, the advantages remain true but we gain no benefit from them.
  4. Applying Scripture to our lives begins with believing what God said holds a personal message to us today.
  5. When we apply Scripture, we invite God to touch us personally with the benefits of what He has promised.

Monday, May 14, 2018

IMAGE -- Who Decides?

There is a common reflex action when we bump our heads. We grab, rub, then look at our hand to see if there’s any blood. Somehow, if there’s no blood, we’re okay.

Years ago as a kid, I was riding in the back of our 1953 Dodge station wagon. The door was two-part. The lower part let down like a tailgate of a truck. The upper, glass part was a heavy-framed, hinged window that raised up. Both parts were open and I was sitting on the tailgate. My mom hit a bump and the top came down and smacked me in the forehead. I saw stars and moons and leprechauns floating around in my head. A knot suddenly popped up where the lid hit me. While I’m rolling around and dying in the back end of the station wagon and barely conscious, my mom asks, “Any blood?” I felt, looked and said no. My mom said, “You’re okay then.” “But I don’t think I’m going to live.” She said, “It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re not bleeding.”

And thus came the rationale for dealing with hurts. Without blood—external evidence—we don’t have a problem.

Years later I made my dad angry. Don’t remember how, but I remember his reaction. He drew back a fist, aimed at my face. He stopped but the image of that fist and the look in his eyes stayed in my mind. I applied the same reasoning: without external evidence, we don’t have a problem. Only it didn’t work. I carried that image for years and it created an emotional wall between my dad and me.
If we can compare life to making a cake, imagine the details of our life are like the ingredients added in. Whatever goes on in our life adds a unique flavor or catalyst to the batter. Something happened when I was a kid that got sprinkled in. An event in college added something else. The upbringing by my parents—their own upbringing—got included. All this stuff, welcomed or not, was dumped into my life and I had no control over it. Most of it was random.

There are things I wish never would have happened. Some other things, I found out later, that would have been good to have had, were left out. All of this, mixed into my life, affected me at some point.
Just like some cakes don’t turn out as hoped.

So when we look at ourselves, what we see is a product of things added or left out of our lives. It’s what we see, but is that image the truth? Are we simply the mixture of all that’s gone on in our past?
On Seinfeld, Jerry asked George if he had told his female friend the truth when he was describing himself to the girl. George responded: "Yes, I did" and Jerry replied "As you see it.” George said: "Remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it."

A very beautiful girl grew up in a highly abusive family. She missed the love of her father and closeness to him. She wanted desperately to have that emptiness filled. She became the girl every guy wanted to take out…for the wrong reason. The image that defined her led to a life that lived out a reputation that fulfilled that image.

Toward the end of high school, she attended a Christian event and gave her life to the Lord, got involved in church and began to grow. She graduated and went off to college. In college she met a young man who began abusing her as her father had. They announced their wedding plans. Her friends tried to tell her not to marry him, he was wrong for her. She said, “But that’s who I am. I shouldn’t expect anything better.”

Though she experienced a changed life in becoming a Christian, she still let those old ingredients define her.

The top 10 symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality:  4. Denying the impact of the past on the present. 8. Covering over brokenness, weakness and failure instead of refusing them the influence they want to have over us.

Though there may no longer be any external evidence, we can have a problem because the old ingredients still affect us. So, what do we do?

Heb 12:1-2 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Encumbrance: hindrance, obstruction, obstacle, impediment, constraint, drawback, complicated circumstances from our past or present from which it is difficult to escape.

Entangled: to become twisted together with or caught in: a web or net

I admit, even today, some of those old ingredients from my past can cycle back through and encumber me. They may affect you as well: making it a struggle to respect your husband, love your wife, release your kids, hope in recovery, be a friend, trust God with your life issues, resist temptations, expect the best, challenge your opinion of yourself.

Why? Because what we believe, we do, whether it is true or not. An unhealthy image of who we are can so dominate our lives that we live out that image. We give power to what is not to have power over us. We hang onto what we have been told to lay aside.

Allowing the past to define us, as Christians, is like holding to a form of godliness, yet having denied its power; 2Ti 3:5

What power? The power of transformation. 2Co 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

So, if the girl in the story became a new creature in Christ, why didn’t the old things go away? Why did they still define her? She didn’t realize her responsibilities within the transforming message of the new life.

Rom 12:2 Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is…i.e., Renewing, so we can live by what He says is true. Refreshing.

God said: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My waysFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. Isa 55:8-9

To live by God’s thoughts and God’s ways, we need a transformed mind. Without a transformed mind, all I have is human wisdom. And human wisdom often lies.

Paul said: my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1Cor 2:4-5 

By the power of God, the girl got a new house but then relied on human wisdom to furnish it. She never replaced the old thoughts in her mind with the transformed thoughts of her new life. The old pictures on the wall of her mind constantly reminded her of who she used to be.

What does man’s wisdom say: if there’s no evidence, there’s no problem. If there’s no blood, we aren’t hurt. If we believe it, it must be true. The power of God says, you were affected by all that has gone on in your life, but the past no longer defines you. Release your heart from what encumbers you.

2Cor 10:4-5 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ

Where is this warfare going on? In our hearts. We are to use divine power to defeat our own opinions that try to influence us to deny God’s truth.

2Pet 1:3 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.

“What we need, then, is an accurate, Biblical understanding of who we are. We need God’s perspective that contains both truth and hope, strength and humility, sorrow over sin and joy about forgiveness, a deep sense of our need for God’s grace and a deep appreciation for the reality of God’s grace.” - Robert Magee.

Without God’s perspective, I’ll try to compensate for things that may or may not be true. I’ll spend my life trying to be someone I’m not instead of who I am.

I want to be the person God sees me as. How does God see me? 1Co 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

My view of me is distorted, like one of those carnival mirrors, influenced by events. God’s view is perfect. He sees clearly, no distortion. He sees me as I am. I am His child and He sees me as the new creation.

Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

You are cleansed: I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a voice from heaven answered a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' Act 11:7-9

You are blameless: yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. Col 1:22

You are forgiven: He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Col 2:-13-14 

You belong to Him: for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. Rom 14:8   

We are who He says we are. No other opinion, not even our own, matters. So to see ourselves as God sees us, we must lay aside whatever tells us we are less than what God says. Then, having taken that opinion captive, we renew our minds to have His opinion.

We are not what has happened to us.
We are not what someone has said we are.
We are not the product of how someone has mistreated us.
We are who God says we are!

How do we see ourselves as God does? By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb 12:3

Jesus paid the price to transform us into Children of God. When we received the gift of salvation, God completed the deal. The old is passed away and with the new came a brand-new identity. You are free to stop living like you were and live like you are—an accepted, loved and blessed Child of God!

1.       Accepting who we are is often a life-long struggle because we lack confidence in the completed work of salvation.
2.      When we will realize God has redeemed our whole life—body, soul and spirit, we will begin to understand there is nothing in our past that changes His image of us right now.
3.      If we are defining ourselves by the past, we are giving power to what He has rendered powerless.
4.      We will live defeated if we carry the encumbrances He has commanded us to lay aside.

5.      Disentangle yourself from the bondage of the past and be free!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Bloom Where You're Planted - Notes

We’re going to do a bit of a horticultural study today. Farming is used frequently as a way to illustrate certain spiritual truths in the Bible. A thriving farm, a successful planting or a prosperous farmer are all measured by the harvest. The harvest is the goal of the whole process of farming.

For example: Mark 4:14-20 The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

Jesus isn’t giving land management techniques but, by illustration, He’s measuring the effectiveness of the Word of God when received into a life prepared for it. Just as a hard, shallow, congested garden will compete against the seeds maturing, so a resistant, disinterested, too busy life will rob us from the good effect of the Word of God in our lives.

The problem isn’t with the seeds. It’s the condition of the soils, as with the condition of the heart, that affects the outcome of the harvest. The seeds are fine.

Isa 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

Every seed has the potential of a great harvest. And that potential remains regardless of the soil it lands in. However, it is the prepared soil that gives the seed its optimum chance for realizing its great potential.

John 10:10 I’ve come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Col 3:16 Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…

1 Thess 2:13 And for this cause, we thank God without ceasing, that when you received the Word of God, you received it as the Word of God, not as a word of men, but as it really is the Word of God which also effectually works in you who believe.

All the ground is to do is yield way to the work of the farmer, to receive the seeds the farmer chooses to plant. The ground simply trusts the Farmer to accomplish his purposes.

Good soil is a life presented to God without competition for what He wants to do. It is unrestricted access to the whole field of our lives so that His Word might grow unhindered and produce great results as what He speaks into our lives effectively works to changes us, our circumstances or both.

So step one to producing a good harvest: Provide good soil. Seed planted in good soil will produce a good harvest.

Next: As any good farmer would do, once the seeds have sprouted and produced the plant or tree, he shifts his interest from soil preparation to sustaining the growth. To see that the seeds fully accomplish their goal of a harvest, he now becomes a field worker or vinedresser or gardener.
Remember, the goal is harvest, fruit. The farmer isn’t content with just having a well-groomed plot of dirt. The ground is groomed to receive seed. Now we submit to the grooming process for growth, or for us, removing hindrances so the truth of God will produce God’s results in our lives.

John 15:2-5 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away [to lift up]; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes [make clean by purging (removing undesirable elements); hence, "pruned (purged)"; eliminating what is fruitless by purifying] it so that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Clean and pruned are from the same word: make pure, purge – lift up

Pruning, cleansing, lifting up is for the purpose of producing fruit in keeping with the goal of harvest. It is the work of the vinedresser.

Submitting to the work of the vinedresser is called Abiding—resting in His ability to accomplish what is best for us.

Luke 13:6-9 And He began telling this parable: "A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'

It’s just one fig tree. What does it matter? The goal is harvest. What is a fig tree that doesn’t produce fruit? A shade tree. The farmer is growing crops for harvesting not shade. A fig tree isn’t designed to be a shade tree.

So step two to producing a good harvest: Submit to the Gardner to prune away any unruliness and lift up our sagging branches. A well-tended garden will produce a good harvest.

But there is also the optimum location for a tree to be planted. We’ve all seen trees and bushes growing in what seems impossible places. [pictures] Again, the seed carries the potential to produce a harvest. It will try to accomplish that wherever it can get a grip. But the prosperity of the tree, the successful harvest has to do with being planted where it can get all the resources for life.

Ps 1:1-3 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

David saw the person who stays in the Word of God would be like a tree planted in the optimum location, nourished constantly by the goodness of God and prospering – bearing fruit.

The key word is like. We can live like a tree planted by streams of water. We don’t have to be planted by streams of water to be like a tree planted there.

God’s goal for our lives remains the same: wherever we’re planted produce a harvest. Because wherever we’re planted, we can live close to the Lord. Spiritual fruit grows best the closer we are to the Lord.

So step three to producing a good harvest: Stay close to the Lord. The further we are from God’s resources for our life, the less effective those resources are to make us productive.

Drawing near to God will increase the strength, productivity and health of our lives. Funny to think we can live a godly life by leaving out the God part.

The goal remains the same: harvest. The fruit of our life is the evidence of an abundant life, nurtured by the very presence of God, producing the ability to declare God is good. Our fruit is the evidence God is with us, working in us and through us.

Now, back to the original parable. Notice that the seeds had nothing to do with where they went or on which type of soil they landed. Their job was to embed in soil and grow. Their goal was to create a plant that would produce a harvest.

The potential remains the same. Every seed carries the same hope of a harvest just as every word from God carries the power to change our lives, our circumstances or both. But a question must be asked:

Ezek 17:10 Behold, though it is planted, will it thrive?

Thrive: grow or develop well or vigorously

Will the seed push forward, break out, come mightily – as a sprout coming from the ground? Will it realize its potential?

There is a connective word that has tied three of our scriptures together this morning.

Isaiah: word will not return to Me without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

David: He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf doesn’t wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

Ezek: Behold, though it is planted, will it thrive?

These three words: succeeding, prospers and thrive are all the same word. Two are used as promises, one as a question. But all connect to the process of a life being prepared for what God wants to accomplish in that life.

It is a question coming out of promise. Two say we can. One asks: Will we?

Circus elephant: A baby elephant is trained to stay put with a chain around his ankle, staked to the ground. An adult elephant will stay put because he learned as a baby that if he has a chain around his ankle, staked to the ground he is bound.

What defines our stake in the ground? What’s keeping us from thriving? Can we put a name on our stake? Can we identify something that we believe if we weren’t attached to it we’d be free to thrive? If I had this…If I could do that…If it wasn’t for…If this hadn’t happened…

What is interfering with our harvest?
Is it a soil problem? Do we have junk that’s creating obstacles?
Is it a refusal to abide? Are we unwilling to yield to God’s intentions in shaping my life?
Is it a location problem? Do we expect to grow without drawing near to God?

1.       A single seed possesses the possibility of an entire forest.
2.      A single Word from God planted in our hearts gives us more potential for a successful and prosperous life than we will ever realize.
3.      Though, like a seed that cannot choose where it lands, we can bloom wherever we are planted by drawing near the heart of God.
4.      Don’t insult God by telling Him you can’t when He has told you you can.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Trials and Tests 2

So far in this study we’ve learned that God expects us to commit to Him our works (the things we do and don’t do) and our ways (the direction our lives are heading). He also expects us to give Him our concerns and life issues.

We have defined our life issues in two ways: one, as trials that test us. Trials are neutral events of ordinary occurrences in life, but they bring with them a choice of how we will react. Last week we learned that whenever we face various trials we may be tempted to act in an unguarded manner and find ourselves defeated simply because we failed to resist Satan’s fiery darts.

In our trials is a test to see how we respond. Satan intends for us to fail the test. God wants us to pass. So within each test is an opportunity for our downfall or for our success. Our response determines the outcome.

The other life issue is when God tests us with trials. When there is an area in our life that needs some adjustment, God may create a situation that draws our focus to that area. When He does, Satan will try to push us toward failure. God will pull us toward success.

What we don’t know is which comes first: the trial and then the test, or the test and then the trial. So, our response must be the same: Roll the problem over onto the Lord, committing it to Him.
Now, knowing to roll and actually rolling our concerns over onto Him may not always connect in one fluid motion. In the gap between knowing the right thing to do and doing it, is a wall of resistance that interrupts the flow. It’s human nature to struggle with trusting someone else with our problems. 

The way we’re conditioned to take matters into our own hands is like a drowning man struggling to save himself. It is unnatural for him to stop struggling and allow someone else to rescue us. It’s how we’re conditioned.

We’ve been conditioned to pray about things but not to roll them over onto the Lord. We mistakenly think when we pray God will take our burdens. No, He takes our burdens when we surrender them to Him. In prayer we exercise belief that God hears us, but belief isn’t trust. Trust happens when we commit our concerns to the Lord. It takes faith to give the matter to Him and trust Him with it.

So, often, God will allow or create a test which initiates a trial designed to get us to acknowledge that His grace is sufficient to manage the details of our life. The test? Will we trust Him? If asked, we’ll say, of course God’s grace is sufficient. But in reality were not relying on that to be true. A trial will show us.

That was why God permitted Satan to attack Job. Satan was allowed to take away everything in Job’s life that Job saw as evidence of God’s goodness. His wealth, his family, his health. Satan’s goal: to get Job to curse God. God’s goal: to expose Job’s misplaced confidence in his own goodness.
Remember, Job was a good man but he thought God owed him for how good he was. He felt God’s blessings were evidence of how good he was, not how good God was.

One thing that makes Job’s story so important is it shows us that Satan can’t test us without God’s permission. He can tempt us but not test us.  Another importance is the vital question the story asks: Where do we find our answers for how we deal with difficult things we’re facing?

Job 1:9-12 Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.

Job 1:21-22 He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

Job 2:4-7 Satan answered the LORD and said, "Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face." So the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.

Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

So far, so good.

Job 2:11-13 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

After a week of silence these men begin to offer their perspectives on suffering but each comes to his opinion from a different source.

Eliphaz finds answers only in what he has seen and experienced. He can only believe what has become real to him.

Job 4:7-9 Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of His anger they come to an end.

Eliphaz had no compartment in his mind in which he could find a spiritual answer. He was more like Doubting Thomas [until I see…]. He couldn’t put Job’s suffering into a spiritual context because He didn’t see spiritual things, only what’s in front of him. To him it was simple: As I see it, suffering comes when we do something wrong, so, obviously Job, you’ve caused your own misery.

Bildad was limited by tradition. If someone from the past, who he considered wiser and greater than he is in the present, said this is the way it is, then that was his answer. He has no personal connection to truth, only what others have told him to believe.

Job 8:8-10 Please inquire of past generations, and consider the things searched out by their fathers. For we are only of yesterday and know nothing, because our days on earth are as a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you, and bring forth words from their minds?

Traditionally, others have said the righteous are rewarded with good and the evil are punished. There’s the problem—Job, you must not be as righteous as you think you are.

Mark 7:8-9 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.

Anything we hold higher than God’s word will become a limitation to knowing the truth.

Zophar was more like the rest of us. His answers came from what he could figure out. He had thought it all through and this makes sense to him. This looks like payback to me. Job, God is paying you back for something you did wrong.

Job 11:4-6 For you have said, 'My teaching is pure, and I am innocent in your eyes.' But would that God might speak, and open His lips against you, and show you the secrets of wisdom!

Job, secrets that I have figured out say you’re wrong. I declare you guilty so you deserve God’s anger. Agree and maybe that will fix the problem.

But to Zophar, and actually each of the friends, fixing the problem meant stopping the test, to end Job’s suffering, not letting the test fix the problem. You never want the test to stop until it has completed its purpose. [Struggle of the caterpillar.]

Job’s response to all of them: Job 12:2-3 Truly then you are the people, and with you wisdom will die! But I have intelligence as well as you; I am not inferior to you. And who does not know such things as these?

After all your great wisdom, I am as ignorant as when this all started.

So Elihu steps up. He says the answer lies in the wisdom of God. Only by God’s wisdom can we understand trials and tests.

Elihu’s source: Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life…Job 34:10, 12 Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong. Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.

Though Job started strong, because of on-going suffering, he began to accuse God of no longer being good. [The agonizing question: If God loves me why am I suffering?]

Tests and trials are spiritual matters. They will affect us physically and emotionally but the target is spiritual. For Elihu, as long as we limit our answers to human reasoning we will never understand what’s going on. Human reasoning makes me look only at what hurts. No, we must ask: what’s going on within my spirit? What’s God working on?

Job 35:12-13 There [in the midst of the trial] they cry out, but God does not answer because of the pride of evil men. Surely He will not listen to an empty cry, nor will the Almighty regard it.
God will not respond to pride nor a faithless cry for help. How does Elihu know that’s the problem? Spiritual insight from what God has spoken.

Job 35:14-16 How much less when you say you do not behold Him. The case is before Him, and you must wait for Him! And now, because He has not visited in His anger, nor has He acknowledged transgression, so Job opens his mouth emptily; he multiplies words without knowledge.

  •  In your suffering, you are forming your opinion from your pain and remaining ignorant.
  • In your ignorance, you are misrepresenting God.
  • Because God is silent, you accuse Him of being absent?
  • Because you assume He is absent, you accuse Him of doing wrong?
  • Because you accuse God of doing wrong, He no longer loves you?

Job had justified himself before each of the other men by saying he had as much right as they had to decide what was true. He would be the source for his own answers. He even boasts that he would tell God the same thing if he could face him. Then it became one of those: He’s standing right behind me, isn’t He, moments.

Job 38:2-3 Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!

It’s easy to reject the opinions of men but what do we do when God speaks?

Job 42:1-6 Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. I am he who hides counsel without knowledge.' Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."

That’s the moment the trial was intended for: the moment Job would turn from the emptiness of his own wisdom and submit to God. There’s your answer, Job. Elihu was right.

If Job had taken Eliphaz’ advice and gone inside his own experience, he would have found he had no experience for what he was facing. He’d never been down this road before. There are lots of roads we’ve never been down before. I’ve never had cancer. I’ve never been this old. I’ve never lost a husband or wife before. I’ve never been without a job.

If Job had taken Bildad’s advice and tried to draw on how people have traditionally dealt with problems like his he would have found out: how God dealt with someone else even in a similar test may have nothing to do with why he was being tested.

If he had taken Zophar’s advice and thought I could figure it all out on his own, he’d have been fooling himself. As would I. I can’t even program my phone. I can’t figure out my remote. I can’t understand my grandkids’ language. And I think I can figure out the ways and works of God?

So the only one left is Elihu’s. His advice: God holds the answer.

Within God’s answer was for Job to gain victory in this battle so God could bless him in the end. Satan wanted Job to curse God. God won. Satan lost. Job was blessed.

Job 42:12-13, 16-17 The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters…After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. And Job died, an old man and full of days.

  • What Satan had intended for evil, God intended for good. 
  • What Satan had devoured, God restored. 
  • What Satan had turned into ashes, God made beautiful again.

God wants your victory not defeat. Roll your trials and tests onto Him. Commit your works and ways, your life issues. Trust Him for it and see if He will not open the windows of Heaven and pour out blessing on your life.

  1. God expects us to commit to Him our works and ways, along with our trials and test, by rolling them off of us and onto Him.
  2. Typically, we resist doing this because of pride or a lack of trust.
  3. A drowning man cannot be saved until he quits fighting to save himself and submits to his rescue.
  4. When we submit these issues to God, He changes us, our circumstances, or both.
  5. But, as long as we trust in our own opinions rather than seek the wisdom of God, we will never find the answers that turn the trial or the test into blessing.