Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Make Me a Blessing

As I contemplate the new year, my thoughts have turned to a hymn by Ira Wilson, "Make Me a Blessing" (or "Out in the Highways and Byways of Life"). The first and third stanzas read as follows:

Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.

Give as 'twas given to you in your need,
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
Unto your mission be true.

The hymn refers to a believer's ministry to the unsaved. The needs of unbelievers are deep; lost people are indeed "weary and sad," "sorrowing," and "helpless." They need the sunshine, the love, and the help that Christians can provide by sharing the gospel message.

While this focus on unbelievers is the primary intent, the expressed aspiration of being a blessing certainly is appropriate also when fellow believers are considered. Their level of hopelessness is by no means as profound, but at times even Christians struggle with the burdens of life and are in need of encouragement and help. The chorus makes no distinction as to recipient.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

These words make a wonderful prayer and focus for the believer. In reality, a day in which a Christian has no positive impact on anyone else is a sad day indeed. Those who do not have regular interaction with others should not be discouraged by this statement. Even an isolated person can be a blessing through the testimony of his life, through his written words, and especially through prayer. The fact that the impact is not observed does not negate its reality.

Stay-at-home moms could easily sense that they have little opportunity to be a blessing to others. This thought is a colossal error. As they shape little lives on a constant basis, these dear mothers have the potential for the greatest possible impact. So many children are leaving the Christian faith, and mothers have perhaps the most influential position from which to make a difference, thereby impacting a much broader sphere.

Whether at home, at work, at church, or elsewhere, every believer has both the ability and the opportunity to be a blessing to others. The desire to have such an impact is aptly expressed by the hymn writer in the words "out of my life may Jesus shine." That is the key. In himself, no believer has the capacity to make a much of a difference, but when the love and care of Jesus shine through him, he can be a true blessing and can have genuine impact.

Today, this week, and this year, may others see Christ reflected in me. May they see "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). May I look more like my Savior so that others can be drawn to Him or can be encouraged to become more like Him.

The only way that I can look like Jesus is by being changed through the power of His Word. "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 from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).

In the Bible, I see His glory, His majesty, His brightness, and His perfection; God works to produce a measure of those same qualities in me. Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12). The influence that I have then is merely God's light shining through me. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

This is God's mission for me, and I desire to perform it faithfully and effectively. Oh, to be able to hear His words of commendation, "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21). Father, may I make a difference for You.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What Herod Didn't Know

When Jesus was born, wise men followed a star and came to Jerusalem, desiring to worship the King of the Jews. Herod became aware of this quest and took action. He researched to find out where the Messiah was to be born. He called the wise men to gather information, and he enlisted them as informants. When his surreptitious plans failed, Herod took drastic action, killing all male babies in the entire region.

Herod involved himself in this situation because he viewed Jesus as a threat. He did not understand all that was going on, but he had heard the disturbing news that a king of the Jews had been born. Placing some credence in this frightening report, Herod took steps to protect his position as king, probably believing he was saving his own life as well as those of his sons. It is not at all surprising that a king who felt threatened would take action, but Herod did not realize that his fears were baseless. Jesus was not a threat to him. Sadly, many babies died as a result of the perceived threat, and decades later Jesus Himself was killed because the idea of a threat persisted. The irony is that in contrast to being a threat, Jesus actually came to conquer the greatest threat known to mankind: death as the penalty for sin.

Jesus was not a threat to Herod's kingship at the time of His birth, nor was He a threat to Pilate or the Herod who ruled at the time of Jesus' death. Although there were people who wanted Jesus to be a revolutionary, He was not trying to take over any earthly position of leadership or government. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting . . . but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36). Only one of Jesus' followers made any attempt to defend Jesus with a sword, and Jesus promptly put an end to that (Luke 22:51). Jesus did not come to overthrow an earthly kingdom; rather, His reasons for coming were spiritual.

Jesus came not to harm, but to heal.
"For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:56). "I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47). "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17).

Jesus came to perfectly fulfill the Law.
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus came to do His Father's bidding.
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).

Jesus came to bring light.
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).

Jesus came to bring grace and truth.
"For this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth" (John 18:37). "Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Jesus came so that man can know God.
"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true" (I John 5:20).

Jesus came to preach the message of salvation to sinners.
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God" (Mark 1:14). "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Timothy 1:15).

Jesus came to give His life as a sacrifice.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). "But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27).

Jesus came to give eternal and abundant life.
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever" (John 6:51).

Jesus came to reconcile man to God.
"He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12). "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law" (Galatians 4:4-5).

There is only one aspect of Jesus' coming that could seem threatening. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Luke 12:51-53). Even in this scenario, Jesus is not a threat to any government or even to any individual. The negative consequences are not toward those who oppose Jesus, but rather a statement of realistic preparation for those who follow Him.

Far from being a threat, Jesus is the source of hope, life, redemption, freedom, and all that is good. Herod was unnecessarily frightened, but the coming of Jesus to earth ought not to bring any fear. Rather, with the knowledge believers have of Jesus' true mission, they can abundantly rejoice in the coming of the promised Messiah.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Don't Give Up

Anyone who ministers to others will at some point get discouraged. It will seem (and probably be true) that those people aren't listening, aren't following advice, aren't trying, aren't changing, and certainly aren't maturing fast enough. Doubtless many of them are taking one step back for every two steps forward. It is frustrating and discouraging to put sacrificial effort into any endeavor without seeing results - perhaps more so when one realizes the eternal significance of the endeavor. In light of the possibility for discouragement, consider this verse:

"Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:9).

We do not know when the harvest will come, but we know that it will come. Prayer, God's Word, and the Holy Spirit will do their work. As we continually allow God to use us as part of those efforts, we will see a harvest. We might not see fruit in every single endeavor. Some plants will be choked by thorns, will wither and die, or will have a delayed harvest, but some will bear fruit. Therefore, the minister of God cannot lose heart. He cannot give up. Eventually there will be fruit as God blesses faithful labor.

It does matter what we do with our lives and how we invest our energies, because the type of harvest reaped will reflect the nature of our labors. Spiritually intentioned and spiritually relevant labor will yield spiritual fruit. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

It matters how much we labor. Those who labor little will understandably harvest little, but those who labor abundantly will harvest in proportion. There are servants of God who pour their lives into God's work (whether vocationally or less formally), and they will have a resulting harvest by the gracious hand of God. "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure - pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38).

Because of the promise of spiritual reward for spiritual labor, we ought to take advantage of opportunities to minister to others. This is particularly true of our ministry to fellow believers, but definitely extends to the unsaved also. "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10).

Effective ministry to others is possible through a single motivating factor: love. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). I Corinthians 13:1-3 reveals that even the most noble and sacrificial ministry, if it is devoid of love, is worthless and meaningless. Service based in love, however, is quite effective.

Love is the correct motivation for service to the unsaved as well. In the context of reaching the lost, we read, "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (II Corinthians 5:14). When we understand that all men are condemned and spiritually dead, love prompts us to share the truth.

We are incapable of ministering effectively without love, and we are capable of love only because we have already experienced the love of God. "We love, because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Without God's love, we would not know what love looks like. Without receiving from His stores of love, we would have no love to offer to others. Because God loves us, however, we are able to show His love to those around us.

In this Christmas season, we are particularly reminded of God's love. God expressed His love with the greatest gift ever, sending His only Son, His holy Son, to live on a sin-cursed earth, to serve selflessly, to suffer incredibly, and to die cruelly just so that sinners can be reconciled to Him. "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" (John 3:16). When we realize and remember the intense love of God for us, we ought to be motivated to show a measure of that love to others.

Mom, are your young children unruly and hard to manage? Dad, does your grown child resist all encouragement to return to God? Grandparent, are you burdened by the inclinations you see in your grandchildren? Sunday school teacher, do the children seem more interested in playing than in listening? Church worker, does that unsaved person argue with the gospel? Christian school teacher, is this year's class one of the most challenging you've ever seen? Pastor, does that infant Christian seem hopelessly mired in the world? Pastor's wife, does the one you are counseling ignore your advice? Don't give up. God does not call on us to produce the harvest; He simply asks us to labor faithfully. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6). Trust Him to do what He says.

Keep correcting, keep encouraging, keep guiding, keep teaching, keep sharing God's truth, keep extending yourself, keep reminding, and keep counseling. Determine to be faithful, planting and watering for another year and for as long as God gives opportunity. Be faithful, and then watch God give the harvest in His time. Share the Word, live the example, encourage the needy, and pray, pray, pray.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bible Marking

The Bible is special, and I have heard numerous guidelines for showing it proper respect. For example, the Bible should not be placed on the floor. Other books or items should not be placed on top of the Bible. The Bible should not be thrown around or handled carelessly. To avoid spills, one shouldn't eat or drink with an open Bible. These are all good ways to give the Bible respect.

Another guideline is to never write, draw, color, or in any other way mark the Bible's pages. I agree that one should not carelessly doodle or scrawl messages in the Bible, but I definitely believe there are appropriate and even beneficial ways of marking the Bible. In essence, I believe deliberate Bible marking can enhance a believer's study of the Bible and can benefit his Christian walk.

Before sharing ideas for Bible marking, I want to acknowledge some objections people may have. In recognition of the Bible's special status, some people would refrain from marking anything in their Bible, wanting to keep it neat, clean, and unblemished. Others might determine that no input from humans, possibly fallible, should appear on the pages of God's truth. Some make no markings so that each time they read, they can discover the truth anew. Others hesitate to mark the Bible out of concern they might write down an erroneous thought, something that a few years of maturity will contradict or refine. Additionally, some could fear a cluttered look that would detract from the actual words of God.

I can have sympathy for each of these reasons, and I would not want to argue with anyone who sincerely believes them. I would suggest, however, that the Bible is a book designed to help its readers. I believe careful and thoughtful marking of the Bible can enhance the help the Bible provides. When this is the result, the person marking has not shown diminished respect for the Bible. On the contrary, he has demonstrated his desire to progressively grow into a deeper understanding of the Bible he admires.

Following are what I consider to be some appropriate methods of marking the Bible.
·         noting a cross reference, a verse elsewhere in the Bible that gives increased understanding of a verse/passage; or another passage with a similar message
·         underlining key words/phrases that clarify a passage's message
·         marking a repeated word or phrase in a passage, thereby noting something clearly taught with intention by God; including words translated differently but with a common root
·         making a note that links parts of a Bible narrative (perhaps a decision and later consequence)
·         making notes that clarify the structure or outline of a passage
·         noting the application of a passage
·         writing down the theme of a book or passage; or listing verses that reveal the theme
·         noting background information (author, setting, audience) about a book
·         writing a definition or retranslation of a confusing word
·         writing down a date when a verse/passage had significant personal impact
·         writing down a well-stated quotation from a message

Because these types of notations require thought and focused comprehension, they can be a helpful part of personal Bible study. Whether done during personal study or public instruction, the notations serve the purpose of facilitating and enhancing future reading of the same passage. With a visual reminder of some key truths already discovered, the reader can move forward to achieve even greater understanding; he can also be protected from following erroneous thoughts that might surface if he did not see the truth he had previously noted.

There are some cautions for Bible marking. One should not write something down just because he thinks it or because someone else says it. To be helpful for proper future study, notes must be accurate; a discriminating Bible marker will note something only when he has a high degree of confidence in its accuracy. Notes should be brief, a single word or just a few words, so they don't clutter the Bible. Markings should be neat, both for clarity and so the Bible does not appear to be carelessly treated. As much as possible, notes should be made in the top, bottom, or side margins rather than within the text. (Quotations or sermon outlines from special events can be written in blank pages at the front or back of the Bible.)

Finally, one should not go overboard. Simply from the perspective of space on the page, it is not practical to write down every interesting quote, every sermon outline from a passage, statements of personal application, or prayers of response. Neither are some of these likely to yield much future profit. (A spiritual journal would be a great venue for these thoughts.) In short, each person should determine what best helps him to profit upon later reading of the same passage without being distracting.

I recently started the new practice of highlighting in my Bible. I did this because over many years of studying, I have begun to see more clearly some common themes of the Bible, themes I want readily accessible when I open my Bible.

There are highlighters (or pencils) especially designed for the thin pages of Bibles; many come with a recommended legend. The set I bought suggests different colors for blessings, growth/new life, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. I recommend each person make his own legend so he can highlight and easily reference what is important to him. This might include Bible promises, God's character, God's names, trials, eternal security, temptation, or other topics.

I chose yellow for key verses, allowing me to easily locate frequently sought verses. I chose blue for common themes of books or passages so I can quickly see and effectively track concepts taught in a particular book. I chose pink for God's love which fills the pages of Scripture. I chose green for the frequent concept that God gives man a choice whether or not to follow Him. I am enjoying this project in the present and look forward to the future profit it will provide.

"The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130 NASB).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bezalel

Bezalel was one of the most talented people in all of the Bible. His work was tremendously important to generations of Israelites and has  been talked about throughout the ages of history. He was a prolific craftsman whose work was truly worthy of admiration.

"Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah" (Exodus 31:1-2). God had a big job for Bezalel. Along with his assistant, Oholiab, Bezalel was basically commissioned to make everything for the tabernacle. The amount of work, the variety of work, and the quality of the work were incredible.

Consider the amount of work. Although Bezalel and Oholiab did train some helpers, essentially the entire work of making the tabernacle rested on them. This included the actual curtains that formed the structure. In creating the structure, they had to prepare hooks, boards, bars, pillars, sockets, poles, curtains, screens, hangings, pegs, coverings, gratings, clasps, and bands. They also had to make all the furniture for the tabernacle, including the ark of the testimony, the mercy seat, the table for the bread, the lampstand, and the laver with its stand. Additionally, they had to make all the utensils that were used in conjunction with these furnishings: dishes, pans, bowls, jars, snuffers, trays, pails, shovels, basins, flesh hooks, and fire pans.  These men had to make the priestly garments, the anointing oil, and the fragrant incense for the holy place (Exodus 31, 38, & 39).

Consider the variety of work. These were true Renaissance men, gifted in multiple areas of creativity. They were sculptors of precious metals (gold, silver, and bronze). They were jewelers who cut and set precious stones. They were engravers of precious metals and gems. They were woodcarvers, upholsterers, and furniture makers. They were clothing designers, weavers, embroiderers, and seamstresses. They were perfumers (chemists). On top of all this, they were also teachers who instructed others in their vast knowledge.

Consider the quality of work. What these men did had to be "according to all that I have commanded you" (31:11). They were creating the extremely special place in which God chose to meet with man. By no means could their work be slipshod, careless, or mediocre. This was not a matter of merely throwing a few simple things together or just making a functional structure.

They prepared the furniture with gold overlays, golden moldings, and golden rings for transporting the furniture. They crafted golden cherubim with outspread wings. The incredible six-branched lampstand, adorned with bulbs and flower blossoms, was all hammered out of a single piece of gold. The altar featured horns. The curtains were made of finely twisted linen of several colors, apparently with pictures of cherubim worked into them.

When they made the priestly clothing, they hammered gold into sheets and then cut it into threads to be woven into the clothing. They set engraved onyx stones into shoulder pieces. They mounted rows of engraved precious stones into gold filigree settings in the breastplate. They made chains of gold like twisted rope to hold the pieces together and added a special binding to protect the openings of the robe from tearing. The hem was decorated with pomegranates of fine twisted linen of various colors alternated with golden bells that actually tinkled. They created decorated caps and sashes and an engraved crown.

In all of this work, Bezalel and Oholiab met God's expectations. God said they did everything just right. "And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done" (39:43).

Where did Bezalel's talent come from? God said, "I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftmanship" (31:3-5). Bezalel and Oholiab were described as men "in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary" (36:1).

These men apparently had some natural talent, and even that talent came from God, who said, "In the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill" (31:6). Each of these men was a "skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill" (36:2). God took their natural (God-given) skill and raised it to levels far beyond what these men would have ever had without His continued purposeful interaction.

What is the point? First, talent clearly comes from God. God gave these men talents and increased their natural talent to incredible levels. Any talent that a believer has, whether large or small, comes from God. Even if someone works to develop and perfect his talents, he can never boast in his own efforts or insinuate that he has made himself great. Every talent is a gift from God and an enablement by Him.

Second, a believer must be willing to serve God with his talents. Moses gave a proclamation seeking workers: "Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the LORD has commanded" (35:10). Bezalel came not because he was forced, but because he was willing. "Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came" (35:21). Bezalel and Oholiab were included in the group of willing workers. "Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person, . . . everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it" (36:2). Talents are not to be used for personal glory, for personal ambition, or according to individual preference; rather, they must be offered freely to God  to be used fully for Him and according to the direction and guidance that He provides.

"Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee." (Frances Havergal)