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Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Night with Friends: Hear God Speak When You Read Your Bible by Aletha Hinthorn

Aletha Hinthorn is a dear friend of mine with a deep walk of faith.  She is the founding director of Come to the Fire women's ministries.  Their vision is to bring the holiness message to women around the world, challenging them to live wholeheartedly for Jesus.  Be sure and stop by her website with the link above.  Her devotional is a perfect accompaniment to the one this morning.  
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Having a notebook and pen beside me as I read my Bible has become one of my ways to say, "Lord, I am expecting to receive something too good to forget when I read today. I want to demonstrate my love for You by caring for wisdom when it comes." If a verse strikes me as one I would like to better understand or I simply like what it says and want it to be lived out in my life, I write it down. 

When the burning bush appeared to Moses, Moses did a significant thing. He "turned aside to see" (Exodus 3:4). The way I "turn aside to see" is to write down a phrase or a verse that I'm interested in. 

When David was giving his son Solomon the instructions for the temple he was to build, he said, "All this the Lord made me understand in writing by his hand upon me" (1 Chronicles 28:19 KJV). I understand this verse to say that as David wrote, the Lord gave him understanding. 

I've discovered that is often the process. New insights come as I write down a verse, perhaps because writing slows me down so I can consider carefully each detail. Recording what I'm reading becomes my way of saying to God, "I'm looking to You to teach me what I should hear You say through this verse today." He responds to this desire.

The simple process of recording what I've read also insures I am more likely to recall those words. One study showed that when we transition from being a passive listener to an active listener by doing something such as writing down what we've learned, our retention changes from 10 percent to 40 percent. 

Dear Lord, help me to carefully protect the treasures You teach me as I read Your Word.

"Wise men lay up knowledge" (Proverbs 10:14).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The recognition, part 4: the shocking surprise

saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day." (Luke 9:22 NASB)

As we read this passage, it seems as if this talk of suffering and death came totally out of the blue. It must have been a shock to the disciples! Can't you imagine them going about their day with Jesus, listening to Him teach, watching Him do miracles, helping with the crowds, talking to the people, not a thought in the world about doom and gloom. Suddenly, they accompany Jesus on a brief prayer retreat, and He begins to talk about dreadful things. "I will suffer, be rejected, be killed," He tells them. They probably looked at each other thinking,"What???"

A quick perusal of Luke's gospel suggests that Jesus "sprang this" on the disciples without warning. A closer look, however, reveals an ongoing discussion that culminated in this pointed exchange. In Luke 5, the Pharisees questioned Jesus about why His disciples did not fast. "Attendants don't fast when the bridegroom is with them, but they will fast when he is taken away," He told them. He was clearly the bridegroom and the disciples were the attendants. No one seemed to notice His comment about "being taken away", but it was clear. 

In Luke 6, an account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned to the disciples and said some very worrisome words. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 NASB). Oddly enough, these prophetic words didn't seem to raise any eyebrows, but when Jesus spoke of His death in Luke 9, He was confirming and expanding lessons He had already begun to teach them, and He would soon become even more specific and detailed. 

Why does this matter? What difference does it make if Jesus had hinted at His death before or just threw it at them all at once? We don't have the benefit of Jesus in the flesh now. Instead, we have that still, small voice of the Spirit who speaks to us and instructs us. It is important to understand that Voice and not be led astray by our own vain imaginings. The Spirit of God will never contradict Scripture. If what we think we hear does not line up with Scripture, it is not likely to be from God. 

In addition, we see here that Jesus began with a brief mention of being "taken away", followed by discussion about persecution of the disciples, before He broached the subject of his death. Because He had already established a pattern, the disciples were not hearing this talk of hard times to come for the first time.

One of the ways the Spirit works is by whispering words of direction to us, then gradually increasing the intensity over time. When He finally breaks through our defenses, bystanders may view our response as sudden, but we can look back and see that He has been hard at work with us for quite some time. This is one of the reasons journaling is so helpful. When you record your impressions of how God has spoken to you, it is easy to look back and see God at work in your life over time. 

The Spirit of God speaks to all of us. It is only the ones who choose to hear who will interact with the most High God. Even those who have walked closely with the Lord may struggle with this, but remember that we serve a God who is consistent. He is consistent with His Word and consistent over time. Most importantly, even in hard times, He is consistent. He does what He has said He will do and He is consistent in repeating it, which is why knowing the Word of God is vital for recognizing His Spirit speaking. For the disciples, recognizing Jesus as Messiah was critical. Now, we must be sure we can recognize the Spirit of God. Understanding how He works and knowing Scripture are a critical part of that.  

Whether or not you know Jesus is the first question that must be answered. For us to continue in relationship with our Lord, however, we must also be able to recognize His Spirit. Do you know that Still Small Voice when it calls you?  He is calling, so open your Bible, get still, and listen. How will you answer when He calls your name?

Second Chances

Health insurance companies have discovered that healthy behavior on the part of their customers results in lowered overall insurance payments, and are actively encouraging healthy habits. My insurance company is no exception. They give "points" for a variety of things ranging from exercise to getting a flu shot to decreasing your waist size. The points translate to a higher wellness rebate at the end of the year. To help with the process, they offer an app that syncs with my wrist-band step meter. 

Recently, they offered extra points for signing up to do a two-week step challenge and I enrolled. Frankly, I thought I was doing pretty well, getting 10,000 steps most days. The front-runners, however, were getting an insane number of steps. The person in 1st place had 279,710 steps after 3.5 days, which was just under twice my total steps for 14 days. I was shocked! It turns out I'm not nearly as active as I thought.

About the time the challenge was winding down, the company announced a second step-challenge. To be honest, I thought, "Why bother?" In the interest of earning more points, though, I finally signed up for round two. This time, I joined the "team for fun" team and decided to see how well I could do. I've gotten 20,000 steps in most days. At the end of round one, I finished 1,983rd. I have no idea how big the field was, but I wasn't last. On round two, I'm ranked 1st on my team and 324th overall. Admittedly, 324th is not the same as first place, but it is amazingly better than 1,983rd, and it shows significant improvement. I'm really glad for the second challenge that gave me a second chance. 

Second chances are wonderful things, aren't they? Whether it's in a step-challenge, a relationship, or at work, getting another chance to make things right is worth pursuing. It's a kind of grace, this second-chance opportunity. In case you've forgotten, grace, unmerited favor, is simply God not giving us what we deserve. When we do wrong and deserve judgment, God offers forgiveness and a second chance. How precious that second, and third, and fourth chance should be, but do we value it enough to take advantage of the opportunity? Even though we will never be perfect on this side of eternity, we can all do better than we have so far. The grace of God gives us that opportunity.  

Consider the areas in which you have performed in less than stellar ways, the times you've failed. Did you just give up or did you give it another try with a firm commitment to doing better the second time around? Let's thank God for the gift of second chances, and be sure we take advantage of them when they come our way. We can do better, we should do better, and with God's grace, we will. 

The Recognition, part 3: The Secret

But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day." (Luke 9:21-22 NASB)

In the preceding verses, Jesus had been discussing the question of His true identity with the twelve. They all agreed that most people thought He was either John the Baptizer or one of the prophets who had come back to life. Peter, however, made his great confession of faith. "You are the Christ," he said. Just as He did with Jairus earlier in this chapter, Jesus instructed them not to tell anyone. Actually, He did a little more than say not to tell. He warned them. The word here is epitimaō, and is often used to indicate a rebuke. He was deadly serious with them. There would be a time for telling people He was the Christ, leading them to recognize Him, but that time was not yet. 

Jesus went on to explain what was ahead. Suffering. Rejection. Death. Afterwards, he told them, He would be raised up on the third day. The word translated as "raised up" is egeirō, and can mean raised from sitting, raised from sleep, or raised from death. What must the disciples have thought as He began to talk about the future? 

They had just watched Him heal a chronically ill woman when she touched the fringe of his garment and bring a girl who had died back to life. Their discipleship, thus far, had been filled with the miraculous. There had been some controversy, but no real suffering. His popularity was increasing; the crowds were growing. Even the chief synagogue official had fallen down at His feet and invited Jesus to help his dying daughter. It looked as if Jesus was well on His way. 

Jesus did not mince words with them. His had been an exciting, and very popular, ministry, but things were about to change. Hard days were coming. These disciples were not naive. They were His closest followers. If hard times were coming to Jesus, hard times were coming to them all. Hard times were coming to them all, that is, if they stayed. 

It would have been easy to walk away at this point. Peter could simply have said, "I signed up to follow a wonder-working preacher, not a suffering, defeated martyr. I'm out of here."  It would have been easy for them to think, "Dying doesn't help anyone! I'm not doing this!" In our time, they might well have quietly walked away. What is truly remarkable is that all twelve men stayed, despite His warning, all the way to the end. (The actions of Judas Iscariot are a discussion for another time.) 

As followers of Christ, we need to recognize that Jesus has not promised us an "easy ride" or a "prosperity gospel".  He has, in fact, promised us hard times and difficulties.  With that possibility in mind, we must consider our committment to Christ. Are we willing to follow "no matter what"? We in the United States experience nothing of true persecution. We have never yet been told to renounce our faith as armed terrorists threaten to slaughter our children if we do not. We have not been asked to die for the cause of Christ, yet, all too often, we find it agonizingly difficult to simply live for Him. If we are not willing to lay down our lives for Jesus in a figurative sense in our daily lives, would we lay down our lives in a literal one? 

Those disciples found that following Jesus was worth any price, and we do well to count the cost and examine our own commitment to Him, without hesitation or reservation. When we are willing to die rather than renounce our faith, we will find that the living for Him becomes much easier. Dying to self is not optional, and it must be done anew every single day. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lessons from the Battlefield, part 21: Motivation

Ezra 3:3 “So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the land.”

Because of their sin, the people of Israel had been taken into captivity. Just as
God had said, they remained in captivity for seventy years, and just as God had said, Cyrus released the exiles to return home if they desired. On their return to Israel, the people committed themselves to repairing and restoring the temple. They began by building an altar and reinstituting sacrifices. 

After all God had done for them, you would think that love would motivate their sacrifices. You might even think that fear of this God who had once again demonstrated His ability to deliver would be a motivator for obedience. Not so. These returning captives built the altar
“because they were terrified of the people around them.” They were not obeying because of their great love for their Lord. They were not obeying because they feared the God who had delivered them. They were obeying because they were afraid of the people around them. They simply wanted what God could do for them and the insurance of His protection from the people around them. There was nothing of love or relationship in their service. 

There are many reasons for service to God. Sometimes we attend church services, give our time and our money, and serve in a variety of ways because it is how we were reared and we've always done it. Sometimes our motivation for service is the community standing it affords. Serving God can easily become more about habit than about love or relationship, and periodically we should do a motivation check. Why do we do the things we do for the Kingdom of God? Does love motivate our service?

The Apostle Paul wrote sobering words about our service, saying that our works will be tried by fire. Only those that remain will merit a reward. 
Read his words here: 
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NASB)

Dear ones, let us so order our heart and our motivations that the service we render is done with a pure heart of love and surrender to our Lord.  May we render works that stand the test of fire and yield a harvest of fruit that lasts. 

The recognition, part 2: what do you say?

And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus was near Caesarea Philippi, where He had gone to pray. The twelve had accompanied Him and He had asked them what people said about Him. Then, He asked them a simple but profound question. "Who do you say that I am?"  Only Peter answered. He was frequently the spokesman for the group, and he answered rightly with clear insight into Jesus. The odd thing is that only Peter answered. What about Philip, who described Jesus to Nathanael as "the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote"? (John 1:45) What about James and John, who, with Peter, were part of the inner circle? Why didn't they say anything? 

Peter did well when he confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, (Matt 16:16) but why did no one else make a confession that day? Perhaps they all silently concurred with Peter, quietly nodding their agreement, but it seems unexpected that only Peter made a verbal confession. 

We must decide for ourselves the answer to the question of "Who is Jesus?" but we also have to confess Him for ourselves. No one can speak for us, not our parents, our pastor, or our dearest friends. We must speak for ourselves, and confess our faith in Jesus for ourselves. Why? Why can't we just nod along in agreement? Our Lord was very clear on this matter. "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32 NASB) The confession of Jesus on our behalf in eternity begins with our confession of Him now, so it is important for us to know what we believe in order to speak it. 

What is it that you believe about Jesus? How quick are you to speak that faith? If we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world, why do we not tell all who will listen?  A perishing world is desperate for faith and hope, and we know the One they need. Friends, let's share Jesus with them. 

Speak up. 
Speak out. 
Say what you believe. 
No one can do it but you. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons from the battlefield, part 20:

From 2 Chronicles 36:22-23

In the first year of Cyrus’ reign in Persia, God told him to build a temple in
Jerusalem and send the Jews home. This was the most unlikely thing in the world. A new king has more to worry about than building a religious temple in another country, and he certainly wants to preserve his skilled labor force. If our new president started his term by building a temple in the Middle East, we’d be more than a little upset. God, however, delights in doing the MOST unlikely. He delights in the unpredictable and unexpected. 

Years before, God had said He would use his servant Cyrus, but who could believe His “servant Cyrus” would turn out to be the king of an enemy nation? God had also told them that their captivity would last seventy years, but many were surprised when the end of captivity finally came. Right on time, God’s unexpected servant King Cyrus sent the children of Israel back to their homeland and financed their temple’s reconstruction. God did what He said He would do, exactly when He said He would do it. He was faithful to His Word.

Our wonderful, amazing Lord, delights in doing things in an unpredictable, unexpected way so that we will know without a doubt that every blessing came only from Him. Is there something about which you have been praying? Why not ask God to intervene in such an unexpected way that it will be clear the blessing came straight from Him. Pray that He will move in a way that only He could do. There is no greater fun than seeing God do something extraordinary!