Friday, March 27, 2015

The Unexplored Depths of God's Word

"When I get a passage of scripture to meditate upon, I like, if I can, to see its drift; then I like to examine its various parts, and see if I can understand each separate clause; and then I want to go back again, and see what one clause has to do with another…The more you read the Bible, and the more you meditate upon it, the more you will be astonished with it. 

He who is but a casual reader of the Bible, does not know the height, the depth, the length, and breadth of the mighty meanings contained in its pages. There are certain times when I discover a new vein of thought, and I put my hand to my head and say in astonishment, 'Oh, it is wonderful I never saw this before in the Scriptures.' 

You will find the Scriptures enlarge as you enter them; the more you study them the less you will appear to know of them, for they widen out as we approach them. Especially will you find this the case with the typical parts of God’s Word. Most of the historical books were intended to be types either of dispensations, or experiences, or offices of Jesus Christ. 

Study the Bible with this as a key, and you will not blame Herbert when he calls it 'not only the book of God, but the God of books.'” ~C.H. Spurgeon

There are so many things that we have yet to learn from the Scriptures. There are so many depths that we have yet to discover. Who will join me in delving into the deepest part of God's Word and extracting the pearls that lie waiting for discovery?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Turning Conversations To Scripture

"You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."  -Deuteronomy 6:7

Did you hear that? We are to talk of God's command when we sit in our houses (i.e. with our siblings and parents), when we walk by the way (i.e. pretty much anywhere out of the house), when we lie down and rise up.  I think the point that God is trying to get across here is that we are to talk about God's Word all the time.  But, how do we do that?  Here are some ways that have worked for me:

1. Turn the conversation to Him through your responses. Answer the question "how are you doing" with more than just a "good." Go further, sharing how great the Lord is in your life, and how He is blessing and sustaining you. When people ask me, "How it going?" I respond with something like this: "It's going great! It seems like everywhere I turn I see the Lord’s goodness.  Why, just the other day..." Then this gets a conversation going about God’s greatness. It helps to pre-think of responses to FAQs, like "how’s school going" or "What did you do today." This is what 1 Peter 3:15 encourages.
You'll have to be creative, but obeying God's commands are worth it.

2. Ask questions that get the conversations turned towards the Lord and His Word.  Here's some of my favorites:

-What is the Lord teaching you right now?
-What verses has the Lord been showing you?
-What did you read in your devotional time this morning? (If they say they don't read the Bible every day, then you can gently show them the importance of doing so)
-What are you memorizing? (Again, you can show them the importance of memorization if they don't practice it right now)
-What can I pray for you about? (It is a really special time to pray with your friends)
-In what ways has the Lord been challenging you these past few weeks?
-[At church] What did you think of the Pastor's sermon?  What most stood out to you?
-What is your favorite attribute of God? (This is my friends favorite question, and it's really good, for it turns the conversation towards the greatness of the Lord)
-What is your family studying in Scripture right now?
-What book has most inspired you?  (This will typically lead to a discussion about their favorite Christian book and the principles behind it)

Things like that are very effective. Although a little awkward at first, you'll get used to it and be greatly encouraged. I find that the times that I talk about worthwhile things with my friends are the times that I am most rewarded. Just try it!

3. Ask if they can listen to you quote a verse. Then after you have quoted it, you can ask them what they thought of the verse, and get a conversation going from there.

4. Ask a question about Scripture.  It often helps me to come to an event pre-prepared with a question I have been struggling with.  Especially if you are talking to someone who is farther along in their walk with the Lord, this approach can help you turn the conversation to the Lord while gaining wisdom and encouragement from another.  You can learn much from the spiritual council of others, so have those questions ready!

Trust me on this, talking about the Lord and His Word will be one of the most rewarding conversations of your life.  Just try it!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Our Bible Reading in Vain?

What follows is a short story that illustrates the power of Bible reading. Even though we may not always see the results immediately, we are being transformed.

The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the mountains of eastern Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning, Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old worn-out Bible.

His grandson who wanted to be just like him tried to imitate him in any way he could. One day the grandson asked, “Papa, I try to read the Bible just like you but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading the Bible do?”

 The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and said, “Take this coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water.” The boy did as he was told, even though all the water leaked out before he could get back to the house.

The Grandfather laughed and said, “You will have to move a little faster next time,” and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again.

This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was “impossible to carry water in a basket,” and he went to get a bucket instead. The old man said, “I don’t want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You can do this. You’re just not trying hard enough,” and he went out the door to watch the boy try again.

 At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got far at all. The boy scooped the water and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty.

Out of breath, he said, “See Papa, it’s useless!”

“So you think it is useless?” The old man said, “Look at the basket.” The boy looked at the basket and for the first time he realized that the basket looked different. Instead of a dirty old coal basket, it was clean.

“Son, that’s what happens when you read the Bible. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, it will change you from the inside out.”

-Author Unknown

Even though we may not see the results right away, God is transforming us into the image of His Son.  As we read God’s Word every day, we too will be washed clean.

It is the same with Scripture memorization.  Although it may be difficult to memorize Scripture, we must never give up the discipline.  We are being transformed even through the process of memorization.

Although we may not see the results of our discipline immediately, we are being transformed.  We are being washed clean.  Never doubt that, my friends.

Image credit: Freeimages | 946287

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Mind of Christ

This is a sort of sequel to my previous post "Christ in Me" further discussing how we can adopt the mind and image of Jesus Christ.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 2:5

By memorizing His words and the things that He said we can adopt the mind of Christ.  Luke 6:45 says, “...For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”  The words of Christ reflect the thoughts of Christ.  So by hiding His words in our heart, we are hiding His thoughts in our mind.  We are copying Him, essentially.  As we do this more and more, we will find that we are beginning to think like Christ without even trying.

Of course, this change will not be sudden, and it will not cover every area of our lives, but slowly, we will notice a gradual change from our thoughts, to His thoughts.

Memorization helps us to conform to Christ.  It is our goal, as laid out in this verse, to imitate Christ.  We must have His mind in us, as Philippians 2:5 says.  This means memorizing the thing He used to express what He thought, namely, the Bible.  If Jesus’ mind dwells in us, then we think as He thinks.  We respond to stressful situations as Jesus would have responded.  The “What Would Jesus Do” idea becomes as natural as breathing, not merely a good idea.

Christ commands us to learn from Him, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).  We can learn from Him, by adopting His standards as our own and His words as our words.

Beyond memorization, this verse also encourages us to love what He loved, to hate what He hated, to desire what He desired, to be moved by what He was moved by, to be motivated as He was motivated; in simple words, to be like Christ.  Let us imitate our Savior in every way possible.  How can we know what He was like?  By reading God’s Word.  Nevertheless, beyond simply reading His Word, we must digest it into the very core of our being.  Memorization takes God’s Word to a whole new level.  We can study it and meditate on it with a new depth of understanding that can only be gained through memorization.

Let us adopt the mind of Christ in our own lives.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Christ in Me

Christ be beside me; Christ be before me;
Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me; Christ be below me;
Christ be above me, never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising, Light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ be on all tongues telling of me.
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me Christ ever be.

This beautiful song, “Christ Be Beside Me,” was taken from some writings attributed to St Patrick.

Even in our generation, the words of this song should be our goal.  It is our desire that Christ might be our all in all—the only thing we live for.  Indeed, it is all about Christ!

Yet, if we want to be transformed into His image; if we want Him to be a part of our every move, then we must draw close to Him.  We must deepen our relationship with Him.

Have you ever noticed that when you spend time around your best friend, you start to act like him or her?  I have found that I have the strange ability to unconsciously adopt the speaking patterns of those I am around.  It’s not like I even try to talk like them, it just comes naturally.  I remember being around someone who always sang songs whenever he was doing anything, and I found myself starting to do the same.  I have friends who, whenever praised, always give glory to God.  I have noticed that that has become part of my vocabulary as well.

So you see, we become like the people we spend time with.  The Bible supports this idea.  Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

In the same way, we also become like Christ by spending time with Him.  It is almost as if His character rubs off on us.  2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

As we behold the glory of God through Bible reading and meditation, we too will be transformed into His image.  Without even knowing it, we will become like Christ.  We will find that our speech patterns change.  More and more often, our prayers will be filled with Scripture.  Our words will be a reflection of the love of Christ.  Our actions will point to His.  When we chose to place Christ in our hearts and on our minds, we will be transformed.  We will find that...

Christ [is] in all hearts thinking about me;
Christ [is] on all tongues telling of me.
Christ [is] the vision in eyes that see me;
in ears that hear me Christ ever [is].

Oh that each of us might be completely transformed by His image!  That He might be beside us, before us, and the King of our heart!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Do The Hard Things

A great plague ravished the countryside of Israel from Dan to Beersheba.  Seventy thousand men died.  Their king, David, had sinned.  As a result, God had sent down the plague.  David cried out to the Lord, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house” (2 Samuel 24:17).

God replied and asked David to erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  David went as the Lord commanded.  He approached Araunah and asked to purchase the threshing floor.  The man told him he could have the threshing floor and oxen for the burnt sacrifice for free.  However, “the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing’” (2 Samuel 24:24).

Unfortunately, we too often try to get the “free” version of Christianity.  We don’t want to do anything that will cost us an effort.  We will only read our Bible as long as it doesn’t hinder with any of our other problems.  We pray only when absolutely necessary because it’s simply “too hard.”  We don’t want anything that requires an effort on our part.

Yet how wrong this belief really is.  Think about it.  What comes without a price?  A good marriage is only fostered by hard work.  A good education is only possible through diligence.  A good meal doesn’t suddenly appear on the table.  A clean house doesn’t just happen.  It takes work.  Everything good in this world takes work.  Why should we expect it to be any other way with our relationship with God?

It’s going to take work. It’s going to take effort. Sometimes, it will be hard to find time in our schedule to spend time with Him.  But it is absolutely necessary.

Just as David refused to get buy with the “free” version of Christianity, so should we be diligent in pursuing a relationship with the Lord even when it is hard.  After all, think of the reward!

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”  ~Revelation 2:14

This promise was given to the church of Ephesus.  Christ called them to return to their first love and go back and do the things they did at the beginning. What might those things have been?  When you love someone, you spend time with them.  You try to get to know them.  When we love God we try to get to know Him. That is what Jesus was called the church at Ephesus to do, and that is what He is calling us to do today, even though it is not easy.  And he who overcomes will eat of the tree of everlasting life and live in the Paradise of God.

This is just one of the many benefits that come from not taking the easy route.  Although hard and narrow, the end destination of this way is life everlasting. Let us not settle for less.  Let us choose to deny ourselves and make time in our schedule to spend time with Him.  Let us do the hard things, knowing that they bring the greatest reward.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Battlefield of Prayer

"It is in the field of prayer that life's critical battles are lost or won. We must conquer all our circumstances there. We must first of all bring them there. We must survey them there. We must master them there. In prayer we bring our spiritual enemies into the Presence of God and we fight them there. Have you tried that? Or have you been satisfied to meet and fight your foes in the open spaces of the world?" ~J. H. Jowett

Monday, March 9, 2015

Praise Him in the Storm

"Praise the Lord!" How apt these three words are to flow from our mouths during the good times, but what about the bad times? When we're in a bad mood, praise is usually the farthest thing from our mind. When life comes tumbling down around us, praise seems impossible. Yet, praise is the very thing that will lift us out of our despondency and circumstances.

Indeed, the struggles we experience all around us seem so weighty and difficult. They seem so big. That is, until we catch a hold of something bigger. We must turn our focus off ourselves and onto our Savior.

I like what Hannah W. Smith (quoted in One Thing I Desire by Sarah Bryant) says about this idea:

"We are never once commanded to
behold our emotions
nor our experiences,
or even our sins,
but we are commanded to
turn our backs upon all these
and to behold the Lamb of God."

We are in a similar situation as Peter. He stepped out on the waters in pursuit of his Lord and walked on water, looking all the time at his goal: Christ. Yet, as soon as he took his eyes off the Lord, gazing instead at the waters beneath his feet, he began to sink. He looked at his impossible circumstances and forgot about the Lord. In that instant, he began to sink.

So it is with us, when we glance around us at the circumstances surrounding us, our steps falter. However, when we turn our eyes back to the Lord, we overcome by His power. He saved Peter, and He will save us.

We must recognize Him through praise, even when our circumstances are not praiseworthy. But that's the point. We're not called to thank God for our circumstances, but rather for Who He is.

We typically think of thanksgiving in the midst of hardship like this:

Thank You, God, for this cancer.
Thank You, Jesus, for this car crash.
Thank You, Lord, for this financial blow.

Such thanks is merely lip service. We're not really glad our brand new car now needs repairs. We don't really mean what we say. However, since God is a God of sincerity, He doesn't ask us to thank Him for these things. Rather, He asks us to thank Him for Who He is!

"Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting." ~Psalm 106:1

"Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness!" ~Psalm 150:2

Despite out circumstances, we can praise God because although the things around us change, He never does. We praise Him because He never leaves us nor forsakes us, no matter the fires we go through. His love and compassion never fail. He crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies.

We can praise Him despite the trials we face. He is God and He is good. Let us take up the weapon of praise and wield it against any enemy that comes to defeat. We have a great God. Will we praise Him through this storm?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Prosperous Life

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” –Joshua 1:7-8

Moses has died.  Joshua is stepping into the shoes of the leader of Israel.  God has an opportunity to commission the new shepherd.  Does He give Joshua practical advice about where they are headed or how to deal with the complaints of the people?  Does He outline battle strategies or tips for leading a people?  No.  Instead, He points this second leader to the law of God, saying that “If you want tips for success in this field you are entering, read the Book.  If you want to know how to deal with My people, read this.  If you want to lead my people wisely and reach the Promised Land safely, this Book has all the tools you will need.”

God pointed to the manual, the guide for success, that is, the Bible.  However, He wasn’t just satisfied with Joshua reading it.  He knew that in order to be prosperous, we must dive much deeper into the Book of the Law.  We must be memorizing it and meditating on it, so that in all things we may be prosperous and successful.

Just as rain causes the earth to prosper, so God’s Word, the living water, causes us to prosper.  But the rain must be allowed to soak up.  If the rain falls on asphalt, it can’t soak into the ground, and the earth does not prosper and bear fruit.  If God’s Word does not penetrate our souls through meditation and memorization, than we cannot bear the fruit of a prosperous life.  Strong’s Concordance translates prosperous as tsalach, meaning “to advance, prosper, make progress, succeed, be profitable.”  It implies success particularly within the realm of their physical battles.  Why would they be successful by merely following a list of rules concerning their conduct?  Because this adherence to the law put God on their side, and He was fighting for them, not against them. 

It is the same now.  When we are listening to and keeping the Word of God, then our way will be prosperous because of the God who is for us.  The 1828 Dictionary defines prosperous as, “to be successful; to succeed; to grow or increase; to thrive; to make gain.”  When we are prosperous spiritually, we are bearing the fruits of the spirit, and increasing in our knowledge of God.  We aren’t stagnate in our faith, but are moving to new heights and scaling over new mountains.  We are moving forward in our relationships as well, gaining happiness and pleasure from those around us.  Why?  Well, because we are following Christ’s commands to love, more people want to be around us.  Do you like to hang out with someone who is always looking for ways to serve?  Be the servant, and watch what happens.  Be the encourager and observe how your friendships change.  Hide God’s Word in your heart, and watch as every area of your life begins to prosper.